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Memories of unusual experiences 
and mysteries in Southern Africa 
and African isles; strange tales and 
legends and unrecorded adventures; 
and people who crossed the author's 
path and left him wondering. 


Some of the roofs are plum-colour, 
Some of the roofs are grey, 
Some of the roofs are silverstone, 
And some are made of clay; 
But under every gabled close 
There 's a secret hid away. 
Lilian DUFF 




Secret of life 


The oldest man on earth 


Throwing the bones 


Some prophecies came true 


The Ridgeback mystery 


Genevieve in the jungle 


Penniless wanderers 


No greater disaster 


Return to Kimberley 


Strange landings 


A secret of the sands 


Legends of the Victoria falls 


Sarie Marais 


Earthquake feeling 


Rumours never die 


The peoples and the trees 


Trails of the tuskers 


The dodo egg 


Queer behaviour 


Secrets of solitude 


In a tiny city 


Every man has his price 

Some found happiness 

List of illustrations. 

The oldest man of all I met by chance. 

Humans love dogs and mysteries. 

The 'Big Hole' is a stupendous example 
of human enterprise. 

Sam Swailes before the diamond raiding 
expedition started. 

Sam Swailes and the baby car on the 
Kaokoveld coast. 

Some historians believe there were white 
men staring at the roaring waters of 
the Victoria Falls many years 
before David Livingstone arrived. 

Progress had hardly touched these isolated 

When I sleep under a baobab far from the 
cities I think of the creatures that 
roamed beneath that grotesque tree 
thousands of years ago. 

The Wonderboom is an evergreen wild fig 

When the Addo elephants left their own 
bush to seek prickly pears in open 
country they had to cross the Port 
Elizabeth railway line. 

Jamestown holds more of the strong meat 
of history, I think, than any other 
town in Britain's colonial posses- 

Tunny is common enough to become 

Jamestown is especially aware of its 

Islanders go up the ladder with a peculiar 
backward swing of the leg. 

It is still a charming place. 

Among the great laurels and palms stood 
a quaint little pavilion. 

One memorable Sunday I circumnavi- 
gated St. Helena. 

Just above Knollcombes is the Baptist 
chapel and the graveyard where the 
Boer prisoners were buried. 

Chapter 1 

Secret of life 

O mickle is the Powerful grace that 

In herbs, plants, stones, and their true 

For nought so vile that on the earth 

doth live 

But to the earth some special good 
doth give 


ONE HUNDRED and sixteen degrees that 
day, ninety-five by night. Clanwilliam in 
midsummer a quarter of a century ago. I 

sat on the hotel stoep in good company, 
ready for any diversion which might ease 
the burden of the heat. 

Down the main street in the moonlight 
came skipping and dancing a tall and 
powerful man with long hair and flowing 
beard. He wore an army greatcoat and a 
sheepskin cap. A coloured boy, carrying 
an old-fashioned candle-lamp, followed 
the queer stranger. The bearded man, 
seeing that he had found an audience, 
halted before the stoep, and put down the 
skin bag he carried. Now we could see the 
benevolent eyes of the man. Odd he might 
be, but he would harm no one. 

"I am Pieter Boom, and I am six thousand 
years old," he announced in English with 
an Afrikaans accent. "I have travelled the 
whole world, and now I have come to 
Clanwilliam to read the Bible to you. Boy 
- hold up the lamp." 

For a while the crowd on the stoep 
listened politely, though it was clear that 

they wished to know more about the man 
himself. During a pause someone called 
out: "Take off that overcoat, man - you'll 
suffocate in this weather." 

"Heat and cold I do not feel," replied the 
preacher. He went on to talk of herbs and 
he laid down rules of health. His audience 
listened intently, and I only wish that I 
had noted more details of his strange 
lecture. The late Dr. Peter Nortier was 
there, the beloved physician and farmer 
who did so much for the district. "Is that 
right, doctor?" inquired the crowd as the 
preacher uttered his words of warning. 
"Perfectly true ... excellent advice," 
confirmed the doctor. At the end of the 
address, I remember, the preacher urged 
us to eat more lentils, which he regarded 
as one of the most nourishing foods on 
earth. "Absolutely right," confirmed Dr. 

When it was over someone invited the 
preacher into the bar. Gently he refused 
the invitation. Then someone else offered 

to buy him a bag of lentils. This he 
accepted. I recall the hotel-keeper opening 
up his store and everyone flocking in to 
see the lentils weighed and handed over. 

Afterwards I joined the crowd in the bar 
while the delighted preacher capered off 
into the darkness with his little attendant 
and his favourite diet. For years I carried a 
vision of the man, wondering how he 
lived, how much he really knew. But I 
never expected to hear of him again. 

Now that I have all the time in the world I 
am picking up old threads. Sometimes I 
discover the truth about unusual 
experiences and odd characters who 
passed by during busier years and left me 
wondering. Memories of strange 
encounters and forgotten dramas, 
unexplained mysteries and elusive rarities, 
have been filling my mind. I must find the 
missing episodes if I can, and bring the 
past to life, though I am fully aware of 
riddles which I shall never solve. 

Yet by inspiration or luck I am filling the 
gaps in some of the little dramas that 
came my way long ago. I still find 
pleasure, too, in preserving those 
unwritten narratives which are on the 
point of being lost through the passing of 
old people, the only people who can still 
speak as eye-witnesses of unusual events. 

I was in Clanwilliam again recently, and I 
sought out one who was there on the night 
of that memorable lecture. "What 
happened to the preacher?" I asked, fully 
expecting a shrug of the shoulders. 

"Pieter Boom ... he's still here, 
somewhere in the mountains," came the 
reply. "Must be seventy now if he's a day 
... but perfectly healthy and enjoying his 
lentils when he can get them." And so, 
after twenty-five years, I heard the story 
of Pieter Boom, whose real name is Pieter 

They nicknamed him Boom because his 
whiskers grew like a tree. He could 

discuss so many subjects that some said 
he was a university man; but this he 
denied. He had joined the police towards 
the end of World War I, and had become 
heavy-weight boxing champion of the 
Western Province. During one fight in 
1920, however, he received such a 
hammering that he was invalided out of 
the force and awarded a pension of 
thirteen pounds a month. He then turned 
to religion, and took to the road as a 

It was coincidence that I should have 
watched the arrival of Pieter Burger in the 
district where, with the years, he had 
become a legendary figure. All those 
years, while I was travelling up and down 
Africa, half way across the world, Pieter 
Boom was living in the Cedarberg 
mountains. While I crouched in the caves 
of Tobruk thinking about the next bomb 
explosion, this old child of nature was 
sleeping deeply in the caves where those 
earlier lovers of freedom, the Bushmen, 

had left their rock paintings. I suppose 
there is no corner of South Africa where a 
hermit would find greater solitude amid 
scenes of grandeur than in this mountain 
world of hundreds of square miles. Here 
lone Pieter had ground, and roasted the 
wild almonds for his coffee, picked and 
brewed his own rooibos tea, collected 
herbs and wild fruits and caught hares in 
distant kloofs seldom trodden by human 
feet. He bathed in mountain streams, and 
cooked his food with the aroma of the 
cedar wood fire in his nostrils. Sometimes 
he came down into the settled valley, 
fragrant with orange groves. Most of the 
years he spent on the remote heights. "I 
have not a worry in the world, but I 
cannot sleep with a roof over my head," 
he told the village people. 

When his military overcoat fell to pieces, 
Pieter Burger trapped dassies and made 
himself a Robinson Crusoe garment from 
the skins. I think he could survive without 
his pension, for he makes his own shoes, 

lives off the country and pays no rent. He 
can still run for miles, leaping wire fences 
in his path. He knows the baboons and the 
buck, and he has a way with dogs which is 
almost uncanny. Never has a dog bitten 
him. He says that he is sorry for people 
who live in civilisation. I can believe it. 

The man who told me about Pieter Burger 
reminded me that Clanwilliam had been 
the home for some years of one of the 
cleverest herbalists in South Africa. It was 
in the early nineteen-thirties that Jan 
Agenbach arrived in the district as 
foreman of a gang working on the 
Olifants River irrigation scheme. 
Agenbach was full of personality, with 
piercing light blue eyes and tawny hair. In 
the Cedarberg mountains he found a 
wealth of herbs, and he treated the 
ailments of his men so effectively that 
people from Clanwilliam began 
consulting him. 

Agenbach married and settled in 
Clanwilliam when the dam was finished. 

Stories of his cures spread far beyond the 
district, and people drove long distances 
to see him. Often, before they could 
describe their symptoms, Agenbach told 
them what they were suffering from. It 
may have been nothing more than keen 
observation, of course, but his reputation 
grew with the years. 

Agenbach never revealed his secrets. He 
used vaseline as a base for many of his 
herbal ointments, and he mixed a number 
of herbal medicines which were regarded 
by his patients as elixirs. Born with a caul, 
he wore it always under his hat. 
Superstitious people regard a caul as 
lucky, of course, and Agenbach declared 
this his success was due to it. 

There are as many tales of Agenbach as a 
siener or clairvoyant as there are of his 
herbal knowledge. Sometimes he told 
people what they had been talking about 
as they approached his house. He could 
locate straying cattle, describing places he 
had never seen. Agenbach died of 

pneumonia in the winter of 1937, and his 
widow died soon afterwards. They left a 
daughter, but Agenbach' s wisdom has 
gone unrecorded. 

Another man of the mountains crosses my 
screen of memory. He is bearded like 
Pieter Burger. Once the huge mass was 
flaming red, but now it is grey. I met him 
when I was a schoolboy, and forty years 
passed before I was able to look a little 
way into his mind. 

After four decades everyone in Cape 
Town knows this man by sight. He is Joe 
Masurek 1 , the Russian herbalist, who likes 
you to call him "Professor". I remember 
him as I first saw him; the long, vivid 
hair, seaman's peaked cap, thick overcoat 
and seaboots, a sack, a cudgel and a pipe. 

1 Not to be confused with "Russian" Smith, 
the old sailor who lived for years under a 
wharf at Table Bay Docks and died during 
World War II. 

His clothes and his blue eyes remain 
unchanged, but now he is over eighty and 
at times he is bent under the weight of his 
years. I find the signs of age doubly 
pathetic in such a man, for he is a child of 
nature, he belongs to the open air and he 
must feel the loss of his powers far more 
than those who have never really made 
use of all that Nature gave him. 

Joe Masurek told me that he was born in 
White Russia. As a young man he walked 
all over Europe learning the lore of the 
herbalist, knowledge that goes back to the 
Cave Man. He came to understand the 
properties of homely plants, the roots and 
leaves of ancient repute which did indeed 
heal suffering mankind. Sometimes by 
smell, sometimes by sharp eyesight, he 
picked such powerful medicinal herbs as 
the buttercup called Monkshood, which 
many feared because of the aconite poison 
it contained. Joe knew how to prepare a 
safe ointment from it for neuralgia. He 
gathered Belladonna and Foxglove, too, 

and the narcotic with yellow flowers 
called Henbane. In the woods he found 
the sorrel which makes a poultice for 
ulcers. The evergreen Broom he used as a 
purgative, while he cured many a case of 
indigestion with Caraway seeds or 
Angelica roots. 

Then he went to sea before the mast, and 
shortly before World War I his ship called 
at a South African port. Joe Masurek 
sauntered off on a walk in the veld, and he 
was so interested in what he saw that he 
let his ship go without him. That was 
before the days of passports. Nobody 
bothered about a middle-aged Russian 
herbalist wandering through the Cape 
districts on foot. Joe Masurek was 
fascinated by herbs he had never seen 

I put it to Joe that it must have taken him 
a long time to discover the medicinal 
properties of South African herbs, and the 
places where valuable herbs could be 
found. He shook his great mane of hair. 

"Just watch the animals," advised Joe in 
his cultured voice. "Use your nose and 
watch the animals. Buck, horses and 
baboons all point the way to the herbs. In 
the great influenza epidemic I saw the 
baboons scratching up wild garlic for 
themselves, and that is the finest influenza 
medicine you could hope to find 

So the Russian roamed the Cape 
mountains and the veld, using the 
principles which herbalists have built up 
since the beginning. Often he carried out 
experiments on himself, identifying 
emetic and purgative shrubs unknown in 
Europe, blistering his arm with euphorbia 
milk, bathing his eyes with the lantana 
herb called "bird's brandy", drinking the 
syrup of the sugar-bush which so many 
take for chest ailments. 

He found that the bitter-tasting, pungent 
or aromatic herbs were often the most 
effective. By taste and smell, trial and 
error, he gained the knowledge that many 

a university botanist might envy. He came 
to believe in fresh, local herbs for the 
treatment of local diseases. If the 
koekmakranka was not to be found in a 
district, he would treat stomach sufferers 
with the thistly, greygreen karmedik plant, 
or the little bush called bels which grows 
on the heights, or the kapokbossie of the 
Karoo. The gum from cedar trees made a 
hot poultice for rheumatics, and when this 
was not available he applied warmed 
leaves of the arum lily. Hotnotskooigoed, 
the shrub with silver leaves which 
mountaineers and vagrants use as 
bedding, was among the remedies he 
learned to apply for heart complaints; 
kattekruie (catmint) and thyme were 
others. He saw the Hottentots gathering 
the roots of the purple flowered 
pelargonium, boiling them with milk to 
cure dysentery. But the Malays picked the 
pelargonium with crimson flowers, known 
as Roode Rabassam, to help a woman in 

Often enough Joe Masurek encountered 
bossiedokters who tried to mislead him 
and preserve their secrets. In the end the 
shrewd eyes of the Russian penetrated all 
deceit. He went on his way, learning the 
value of the pointed leaves of "Bushman's 
tea" for asthma, the resinous roots of the 
platdoring or sieketroos as a diuretic, the 
juice of wild fig leaves as a gargle, a 
narcotic and as a lotion for burns. 

You cannot acquire this herbal 
pharmacopoeia without visiting wild and 
lonely places. Joe Masurek has never 
feared any animal, however, and like 
Pieter Burger he has a special power over 
ferocious dogs. Leopards have crossed his 
path in the mountains, but never have they 
attacked him. The only time he had to run 
for his life was when he encountered a 
pack of baboons which had been trapped 
in a mountain fire and had become mad 
with fear. But he has kept a sharp look-out 
for snakes ever since a yellow cobra bit 
him. He says that he needed his herbal 

remedies that day, though I believe it was 
his own magnificent physique which 
saved his life. There was also a poisonous 
spider which inflicted a dangerous bite, 
but he soon recovered. Once he broke a 
leg while climbing. Otherwise he knew no 
real illness for eighty years. 

It was in 1915 that Joe Masorek reached 
Cape Town, and very soon he realised that 
Table Mountain would provide him with 
all the essential herbs. Besides dealing in 
medicinal plants he knows where to find 
the most appetising watercress; and after 
the first autumn rains he can locate the 
field mushrooms which are in such great 
demand at restaurants. I do not know 
whether mushrooms have a medicinal 
value, but they form part of Joe Masurek' s 
stock-in-trade as a remedy for certain 
bacterial infections. 

I found that the "Professor" knew all 
about the "doctrine of signatures", though 
he laughed at the ancient idea that you 
could tell the medicinal value of a herb 

from its shape. Sometimes the ancients 
were right. There are tubers on the roots 
of the pilewort which suggested it as a 
remedy for piles; and so a useful ointment 
was made when blended with hog's lard. 
And the Cape gooseberry is the traditional 
cure for stone in the bladder or kidneys; 
an infusion of the leaves and a decoction 
of the seeds taken many times a day. 

You enter a fascinating world of healing 
indeed when you consider the medicines 
of the veld and the mountains and the 

Boiled strawberry leaves to remove tartar 
from the teeth. Orange leaves and flowers 
for all convulsive ailments, peach leaves 
as a sedative. Sorrel for the liver, wild 
thyme to cure melancholy and nervous 
diseases. Leaves and flowers of certain 
heaths as a tonic. Fern syrups to relieve 
hoarseness. Mosses for dressing wounds, 
pine tar for skin diseases, acanthus as a 
poultice for ulcers. Flowers and leaves of 
daisies to relieve pain when other 

remedies have failed. A decoction of 
nettles as a gargle, olive leaves for 
reducing a fever, clover for whooping 
cough, and cabbage juice for stomach 

As a collector of botanical specimens, the 
"Professor" ranks indeed with the 
professionals. He kept his private 
collection in a room which he hired in the 
city; and it is sad to relate that someone 
robbed him of this hoarded treasure of the 

Few men can have slept more often than 
Joe on the heights and in the caves of 
Table Mountain. This, I think, explains 
the heavy overcoat in midsummer. Joe 
carries his bedding on his back. But he is 
completely unaware of clothes as he is 
oblivious to social distinctions. Joe 
Masurek dines with friends in fashionable 
suburbs, and he has been observed taking 
a hand in a card game with the natives on 
duty in an all-night garage. When he is in 

town he goes regularly to a favourite 
milk-bar for a cheese sandwich. 

Joe Masurek was feeling the weight of his 
years late in 1955, and he was taken to 
hospital after a heart attack in the street. 
They tried to cut off his beard and long 
hair, but Joe resisted all efforts. He told 
his visitors that he knew the herbs he 
needed for his ailment, but he was too 
weak to climb in search of them. When he 
looked through the window at friendly, 
distant Table Mountain, tears came into 
the old man's eyes. The mountain had 
done more than provide him with a living, 
and he loved the kloofs and the ledges, the 
waterfalls and forests. 

So there were two men who gave me little 
glimpses into their lives under the sun and 
stars, and into the philosophy ruling their 
lives. Ambitious people, those who strive 
for success, people too deep in the ruts of 
city life to gaze up at the sky, will find 
nothing admirable in two old vagrants. 
Not many of us would survive so close to 

Nature in the mountains; not many would 
even wish to try. But we are not all cast in 
the same mould. Pieter Burger and Joe 
Masurek found the way of life suited to 
their peculiar needs. There is room in our 
civilisation for picturesque vagrants as 
well as successful business men. And it is 
certain that Pieter Burger and Joe 
Masurek have learnt more about life close 
to Nature than some of the greatest brains 
of the cities. 

Have these old vagabonds any secrets 
worth knowing? I think some of them 
have. Man cannot live in solitude year 
after year without storing up wisdom 
which is not to be found in books. In the 
herbs of the veld there rests the basis, the 
origin of modern medical science. Many 
herbs are useless, some are dangerous, 
others have saved lives. With all their 
marvellous drugs, the trained healers are 
still working on the fringe of a great field. 
The cure for cancer may be growing 

unrecognised under a rock on a mountain 

In the Cape there are vast stores of herbs 
and a rich treasure house of inherited 
knowledge. No doubt some of the old 
secrets have been lost, surviving only in 
legend. I am thinking especially of the 
mixture of plant juices, so powerful in the 
hands of long departed Hottentot 
herbalists that a man's limbs could be cut 
off without pain. 

Of course the real art of the herbalist lies 
in plucking herbs at the right time and 
using them in the right form. Orthodox 
medicine does not deny the value of 
herbs, but doctors claim that their 
synthetic laboratory products are cleaner, 
cheaper and more effective. I wonder 
whether the herbs have been tested fairly? 
A dried and wizened specimen cannot 
have the virtue of the same herb used soon 
after it has been gathered, and at a season 
when it is at full strength. Dried digitalis, 
for example, is useless. But what is the 

right season - before flowering, or when 
the flower appears, or at seeding time? 
The answer must vary from plant to plant. 
It is also essential to use the right part at 
the right time; sometimes the whole plant, 
often only the flower or the seed. There 
are poisonous growths with safe parts, 
like the gifhoutbossie; you can grate the 
roots and use them to cure stomach-ache. 
(I believe this was a favourite medicine of 
the old Koranna kaptein Hendrik Beukes, 
whose widow revealed the secret.) Some 
herbs are more powerful when mixed with 
other herbs and substances; linseed oil, 
santolienhout, buchu, honey and 
wildedagga for inflammation of the lungs. 
And the herbalist must acquire his 
difficult art without the aid of text books. 

Yet I believe that men like Pieter Burger 
and Joe Masurek come very close to the 
secret of health, the secret of life. Many of 
the great discoveries in medicine were 
made by primitive herbalists. Raw 
savages provided the civilised world with 

quinine and digitalis. I hope that when 
still greater discoveries are made, the 
bearded old vagabond of a herbalist will 
not carry his secrets with him to the grave. 

Chapter 2 
The Oldest Man On Earth 

MOST of us, I suppose, have passed some 
of our time pondering over the secret of 
long life. I have questioned many old 
people, a few of them genuine centena- 
rians; and as a rule I have found them 
alert and intelligent, qualities which may 
have some bearing on the problem. 

The oldest man of all I met by chance. He 
may have been the oldest man in Africa, 
possibly on earth. I was travelling to 
Northern Rhodesia in 1935 and the train 
stopped at one of those desert stations in 
Bechuanaland where you see a water tank, 
a name-board and a fence adorned with 

karosses which passengers sometimes 
buy. This station also offered the 
spectacle of a white haired, white-bearded 
ancient who was obviously blind and 
appeared to be happy in spite of his 
closed, sightless eyes. 

"That is Ramonotwane, the oldest man 
you'll ever set eyes on," remarked a 
picturesque white man in a bush shirt and 
riding breeches. I think he was a trader 
who had come to the station to collect his 
goods and live for five minutes in the 
semblance of a wider world. He had a 
humorous face, and he made me wish the 
train was staying longer. 

"How old?" I asked suspiciously, though I 
smiled at his remark. 

"Some say a hundred and twenty years 
old," replied the white man. "Longer than 
I'll last, anyway - the brandy will get me 
before that." But he did not look like it. A 
little desert-weary, perhaps, or "sand- 
happy" as we once called it. 

Deserts are healthy places, and 
Ramonotwane lasted for another decade 
after my glimpse of him. I always 
regretted that there was no interpreter 
present, and that the train pulled out 
before I could get to know the old man. 
As it was, I simply carried away an 
impression of one who had warmed 
himself in the South African sun, and 
found pleasure in it, during a lifetime 
beyond the average. 

He was a large-headed man but not very 
tall, and in that I found him true to the 
longevity type. Your lean fellow, below 
six feet, lively as a grig, is much more 
likely to become a centenarian than your 
heavy giant. I also remembered that 
Ramonotwane had most of his own teeth. 
Very old people will tell you that they 
owe their lives to teeth which, even when 
worn down, are still capable of dealing 
with all sorts of food, and that the finest 
dental plates are poor substitutes. 

The oldest man I ever met by chance. He may 
have been the oldest man in Africa, possibly 
on earth. 

Reports of native centenarians are treated 
with great reserve by scientists in South 
Africa, though the lay public balances this 
attitude by not being critical enough. I did 
not attach any importance to the white 
mans' estimate of one hundred and twenty 
years. To my surprise, however, 
Ramonotwane came into the news that 
year, and it seemed that he might be the 
oldest man in Africa after all. 

Certainly he had waited a long time for 
this fame. His own people had recognized 
him for many years as a venerable and 
lovable old man, a wise man with a sense 
of humour. Missionaries and officials, too, 
were fully aware of Ramonotwane, and 
had come to regard him as an authority on 
phases of Bechuanaland history. But to 
the outside world, this story of the man 
who had lived for one hundred and twenty 
years was a strange tale indeed, and one 
which aroused wide interest. 

How do you fix the age of a native 
without a birth-certificate? You must be 

an historian, full of tribal lore and the 
dates of those events which are likely to 
be remembered by natives. Wars and 
battles, the births and deaths of great 
chiefs, the founding of towns, comets and 
plagues, sensational floods and falls of 
snow, drought and blizzards and 
earthquakes; all these remain in the mind 
of a native as the landmarks of a century. 
When the census enumerators carried out 
their task in 1951 they were equipped 
with a list of South African dates starting 
with the death of Chaka (1828) and 
including such incidents as the 
establishment of Lovedale (1842), the 
cattle killing delusion (1857), Adam 
Kok's trek (1862), the first appearance of 
the mealie-grub (1865) and the blowing 
up of the Kokstad powder magazine 

If a man said he was born in the year of 
the great famine last century, the list fixed 
him as an 1885 baby. Many old natives 
remembered Queen Victoria's Jubilee 

(1887), Sir Henry Loch's visit to the 
native territories (1891) and the locusts 
that came the following year. Among the 
events of this century fixed in the minds 
of many thousands of natives were the 
crop disease Of 1904, Halley's comet 
(1909), the first census of all races in the 
Union (1911), the sinking of the troopship 
Mendi in 1917 with heavy casualties 
among the members of the native labour 
corps on board. 

The man who brought Ramonotwane to 
light was an investigator of considerable 
skill - Mr. F. R. Paver, 2 editor of the 
Johannesburg "Star". In 1933 Mr. Paver 
found Ramonotwane living in the village 
of Kalamare, among the Shoshong hills 
twenty miles to the east of the railway 

2 Mr. Paver is an authority on Voortrekker, 
Zulu and Bechuana history. He is the last man 
in the world to be impressed by a charlatan. I 
have had the benefit of his expert help in 
writing this chapter. 

line. With Mr. Paver was Lt.-Col. Jules 
Ellenberger, C.M.G., former Resident 
Commissioner of the Bechuanaland 
Protectorate, a fluent native linguist with 
thirty-seven year's experience of the 

Ramonotwane stated that he had known 
Sechele, a Bakwena chief mentioned by 
Livingstone. "I was born a few years after 
Sechele," declared Ramonotwane. This 
gave the first clue to Ramonotwane 's age. 
Sechele was a Bechuanaland celebrity 
who lived in a well-built house with 
mirrors, clocks, a silver tea-pot and other 
amenities. The hunter Selous described 
him as the most completely civilised 
native he had ever met. Sechele was born 
in 1811. 

Ramonotwane also said that he was a 
small boy herding goats when Makaba 
was killed. Now the missionary Moffat 
visited Makaba, chief of the Bangwaketse, 
in 1825; but when Andrew Geddes Bain, 

explorer and trader, entered the territory 
in 1826 he was shown the place where 
Makaba had been killed by fugitive 

Bechuana lads joined their maphato 
(regiment) between the ages of fourteen 
and seventeen. Ramonotwane gave an 
account of his exploits as a fighting man 
up to the time of his capture when the 
Matabele warriors under Msilikazi 
invaded Bechuanaland. That was in or 
about 1832. 

Perhaps you will remember that Msilikazi 
(spelt Moselekatse when I was at school) 
was the Zulu induna who failed to send 
back all the loot to his king Chaka after a 
battle. Chaka hurled a large army against 
him, but Msilikazi escaped into the 
territory now known as the Transvaal. 
There he and his followers became known 
as the Matabele; ten thousand cruel 
invaders who killed for the love of killing. 
They spared the young girls, and 
sometimes a likely young man such as 

Ramonotwane was allowed to join them. 
Ramonotwane often chanted an isibongo 
in praise of his old leader Msilikazi, using 
the Zulu dialect of the Matabele. He told 
of the journey northwards into the land 
which is now Rhodesia, and the conquest 
of the Mashona tribes. Msilikazi trusted 
Ramonotwane, appointing him as one of 
the guardians of the chief's harem. 

Once in his life Ramonotwane took part in 
an attack on some white men. "I was 
charging with my shield raised, when 
suddenly I found my left hand powerless," 
Ramonotwane narrated, "I looked, and 
waul thumb and finger gone." 

Mr. Paver had no difficulty in fixing the 
date of this episode, for it occurred in the 
Matopo Hills at a period when the only 
white men in the country were a party of 
Voortrekkers under Hendrik Potgieter. 
These men crossed the Limpopo in 1847, 
returning to the Transvaal soon after 
beating off Msilikazi 's warriors. Msilikazi 

died in 1869, 1 but towards the end of his 
career he rewarded Ramonotwane for his 
services by sending him back to his own 

With this and other evidence Mr. Paver 
checked Ramonotwane' s story at every 
point and found that it rang true. 
Ramonotwane must have been born in or 
about 1815, the year of Waterloo. 

Naturally, there were sceptics. The story 
of Ramonotwane reached London in 1938 
and "The Times" published a portrait, of 
Ramonotwane and opened its columns to 
a most interesting controversy. The late 
Sir John Harris, pillar of the Anti-Slavery 
and Aborigines Protection Society, had 
been visiting Bechuanaland earlier that 
year, and had spent some time looking 
into Ramonotwane' s age. He said that 
chiefs and missionaries, officials and 

3 In 1943 the youngest son of Msilikazi died at 
Empandeni Mission, Southern Rhodesia, at 
the reputed age of 1 10 years. 

friends of the old man had informed him 
that Ramonotwane had been born in the 
same year as Sekgoma, father of Khama. 
Harris thought that Ramonotwane might 
be one hundred and forty years of age, 
and suggested that some qualified 
scientist in South Africa should visit 
Bechuanaland to establish the facts. 

Colonel H. Marshall Hole, author of "The 
Making of Rhodesia", then chipped in 
with clear proof that some of the dates 
given by Sir John Harris were inaccurate. 
Even so, Ramonotwane would still have 
been a very old man. 

Dr. Maurice Ernest, biologist and founder 
of the Centenarian Club in London - the 
aim of which is to investigate the means 
by which health and vigour may be 
retained beyond the century - dashed into 
the fray at an early stage. He had 
investigated many claims, and the longest 
life he had ever been able to confirm was 
One hundred and thirteen years. That was 
Pierre Joubert, a French-Canadian who 

died early last century. Ernest offered to 
reimburse Sir John Hams up to a limit of 
£250 if Ramonotwane stood up to a 
scientific examination in London. 

4 Inevitably the claims made on behalf of 
Ramonotwane reminded various people of 
other almost incredibly ancient characters. Mr. 
R. W. Hamilton of Hadlow Down vouched for 
one Bilai bin Suliman bin Ahmed of Zanzibar, 
and I cannot resist a quotation from this letter. 
"He was chief gunner in the navy of the Sultan 
of Muscat, and arrived in Zanzibar with 
Seyyid Said bin Sultan in 1832," Mr. 
Hamilton wrote. "He was then retired from the 
sea and appointed to take charge of the Palace 
flag, a post which he held for eighty years in 
the enjoyment of all his bodily faculties. His 
papers were destroyed in the bombardment of 
the palace in 1836, but he can hardly have 
retired as chief gunner under thirty-five, which 
would make him one hundred and fifteen at 
the time of his death. And he may have been 
ten years older than that." 

A stupid challenge, for there are no 
physical tests which will fix a man's age. 
Moreover, as Sir John Harris replied, it 
would not do the old man any good to 
take him out of his healthy desert sur- 
roundings and transport him to London. 

No decision was reached in London - it 
was impossible. However, there was a 
distinguished visitor in Ramonotwane' s 
kraal in August 1938, and his opinions are 
interesting. He was the late Dr. Robert 
Broom, D.Sc, F.R.S., the anthropologist, 
who nearly became a centenarian himself. 
Dr. Broom enlisted the influence of 
Tshekedi Khama, regent of the 
Bamangwato, who lent him his own 
scribe as interpreter. 

The visitors found Ramonotwane resting 
in the sun, a favourite occupation. He 
wore a woollen cap, khaki shirt and 
trousers, an old air force greatcoat and 
sandals. Dr. Broom described Ramono- 
twane as well-nourished, vigorous, and 
not unduly wrinkled. His heart and pulse 

were satisfactory. The blindness was due 
to cataract. His forehead was scarred as a 
result of a knobkerrie injury. In his report 
he emphasized that it was impossible to 
fix a centenarian's age from physical 
examination. Dr. Broom, however, 
accepted the historical evidence that he 
was born some months before Khama's 
father Sekgoma, who was born in or about 
1797. That brought Ramonotwane up to 
an age of one hundred and forty; and as he 
died seven years later, Dr. Broom's 
estimate gave him nearly a century and a 
half of life. 

I cannot accept that, even though it came 
from such a renowned anatomist as Dr. 
Broom, authority on primitive man. 
Obviously there was a mistake in the date 
of Sekgoma' s birth; it is also probable that 
Ramonotwane was mistaken in thinking 
that he had been born in the same year. 

Mr. Paver had formed the opinion that 
Ramonotwane must have been born 
between the years 1815 and 1817, the 

earlier date being more probable. He 
cross-examined one of Ramonotwane' s 
sons, a man of seventy, who stated that his 
earliest memory of his father was of a 
grey-haired man. 

Someone asked Ramonotwane how many 
children he had, and the old man replied: 
"If we sat here till the sun went down we 
would still not have counted them all." 

Ramonotwane remembered the mission- 
ary Robert Moffat, who first arrived in 
Bechuanaland in 1820; and David 
Livingstone, who travelled in the territory 
in the middle of last century. 

It was a memorable interview, and it 
ended with Dr. Broom presenting 
Ramonotwane with a new warm blanket. 
"Half the secret of his age is in his teeth," 
Dr. Broom summed up. "The other half is 
the spirit which animates him; it shines 
out in enthusiasm, humour or pathos." 

I believe there is medical support for the 
Mechnikov theory that people who drink 

sour milk regularly (for example, Russian 
peasants) tend to avoid intestinal 
poisoning and thus reach extreme old age. 
Ramonotwane took sour milk in his 
simple diet, consisting mainly of porridge 
and a little meat. He insisted on having a 
hot bath every day, and regarded this 
luxury, on the edge of the Kalahari, as 
important. At one time Ramonotwane had 
smoked dagga, but his chief stopped him. 
Evidently it had done him no harm. 

If it could be shown that the human body 
is utterly incapable of lasting as many 
years as Ramonotwane is supposed to 
have lived, then the strongest evidence 
would have to be set aside, even though it 
seemed flawless. Can a human being live 
for one hundred and thirty years? 
Admittedly, no such life span has ever 
been proved. The nearest approach to it 
was that of Robert Bowman of 
Cumberland, who died in 1 823 in his one 
hundred and nineteenth year. Some 
authorities accept Bowman, others are 

dubious. There is a gap between one 
hundred and thirteen and one hundred and 
thirty; but is seventeen years far beyond 
the bounds of possibility? I would not 
care to fix the age of Ramonotwane too 
closely, but I am prepared to believe that 
he was, in his day, the oldest man in 

In the Kimberley Museum you will find a 
portrait of a Bushman named Daniel, who 
died in 1933 at the reputed age of one 
hundred and eighteen years. The museum 
authorities investigated his story during 
his lifetime and decided that he was 
probably born in the second decade of last 
century, possibly in 1815. I wish Daniel 
and Ramonotwane could have been 
brought together. 

Daniel could drink a pint bottle of wine 
without a pause. For many years he slaked 
his thirst by means of a pension of a 
shilling paid to him every Wednesday and 
Saturday by Mr. L. T. Shone, a Kimberley 
resident. Daniel had signed away his skull 

in return for these bi-weekly payments, 
but I never heard whether this grim 
souvenir of the centenarian was claimed. 

Another very old native who died in 1933 
was James Molife, who claimed to be a 
survivor of an impi that was shattered by 
Andries Pretorius in 1838 at the Blood 
River battle. His age was estimated at one 
hundred and fifteen years. He settled at 
Ladysmith and became a true patriarch, 
with a horde of greatgrandchildren round 
him. Whether he was a true centenarian is 
another matter. 

I am less dubious about the Zulu woman 
Ukati ("the Cat"), who was still alive in 
1933, and said to be one hundred and 
fifteen, like Molife. According to her 
story, her mother had fled from Chaka's 
blood-lust at a time when all female 
babies were being killed. Ukati married 
one of Dingaan's warriors. Her husband 
was present at the massacre of Piet Retief 
and his men in 1838 and told her about it. 

Now it is possible for a woman with 
ordinary knowledge of Zulu history to 
invent a narrative like that and repeat it 
until she believes it herself. Ukati, 
however, described one incident so 
vividly that every investigator accepted it 
as fact. She was lying in her hut just 
before her first child was born when, as 
she put it, "suddenly the sun covered its 
face". That was the total eclipse of March 
1839, and before the shadow of the moon 
had passed, her child was born. 

Why should a primitive Zulu woman 
invent such a story? False or true, she 
created an episode worthy of a novelist. 
The final point in favour of Ukati 's 
truthfulness was found in her descendants. 
Ukati' s daughter was living with her, and 
the daughter had four sons, three 
grandsons and one great-grandson. I shall 
never know whether Ukati told the truth 
about her age, but if she did lie, she lied 

One of the oldest men of his day, known 
to thousands of South Africans, was 
Abraham, the Bushman. I had many 
conversations with this wise and friendly 
old fellow, both in the Kalahari in 1936 
and during Abraham's famous visit to 
Johannesburg. It was impossible to doubt 
that Abraham had passed the century 
mark, and the estimate of one hundred and 
nine years when he died must have been 
fairly accurate. 

The late Mr. Donald Bain, desert guide 
and hunter who took Abraham to 
Johannesburg, made every effort to check 
this estimate. Among other things he 
discovered that Abraham was present at 
the death of Robert Lewis, the Kalahari 
trader, who died in 1894 after being 
mauled by a leopard. "Ah, I was an old 
man then - I was bald," declared 

Almost to the day of his death Abraham 
took part in the strenuous Bushman 
dances. They buried him under a tree I 

know well, far out in the Kalahari where 
the dusty Nossob river-bed joins the dry 
Auob. There Abraham rests, a genuine 
centenarian who loved the desert. 

For a number of years the most celebrated 
white centenarian in South Africa was Mr. 
Pieter Chandler Pringle of Germiston. 
You could not call him an impostor, but 
when he claimed to be one hundred and 
twenty one (not long before his death in 
1951) I felt there was a mistake 
somewhere. After his death his marriage 
certificate came to light, bearing the date 
April 11, 1893 and showing that he had 
given his age then as forty-seven. So he 
was a mere one hundred and five when he 

I have often marvelled at the peace of 
mind of the centenarian; probably the key 
to the mystery of longevity. However, 
they usually have strong views on diet. 
"Eat plenty of honey and mealies, enjoy 
the fresh air and avoid quarrels and 
troubles," advised Mr. Pringle. 

Occasionally you find a centenarian with 
highly original ideas. As a group, how- 
ever, they have much in common. They 
are people with keen appetites, often poor; 
hard workers who keep going as long as 
they can; kindly conscientious, cheerful 
people. Many of them were frail in early 
life and had to learn to look after 
themselves. Many admit that they have 
had serious illnesses. If you analyse their 
diets you will find a preference for coarse 
wholemeal bread. They take water and 
milk rather than tea and coffee. The men 
are seldom lifelong teetotallers, and many 
of them are (or have been) smokers. 

Among the more austere centenarians was 
Oupa Zietsman of Barkly East, one 
hundred and seven years old in 1924 
when he gave his views. "Never enter a 
ballroom, never talk scandal, never go 
into a bar," warned Oupa Zietsman. 

I have been dealing with so many male 
centenarians that you may have gathered a 
false impression. Women stand a much 

better chance than men of reaching the 
century, and this has been proved in one 
Union census after another. In 1931, for 
example, the nine white centenarians 
included only one man. 

Another fact which emerges from the 
statistics is that the best place to reach the 
century is a town or village in the Cape 
countryside. In one year, all the white 
centenarians belonged to the Cape 
Province. Malmesbury proved its claim as 
a town of very old people when a birthday 
party was organized by the mayor in 1936 
at the town hall in honour of Mr. 
Kasparus ("Oom Kalie") Steyn, aged one 
hundred. The guests were thirty men and 
women, all over eighty years of age. 

A coloured centenarian of Malmesbury 
who turned one hundred in 1949 was Dirk 
Jasson. He fixed the date of his birth by 
the anti-convict agitation. Dirk worked as 
a mason until he was almost ninety. He 
differed from "Oom Kalie" in one respect, 
for he was a moderate smoker. 

A country magistrate once told me the 
most amusing centenarian story I have 
heard. Relations of a man of ninety-eight 
applied for him to be placed on the "Black 
List", and said that he was spending all 
his money on drink and endangering his 

"I have only £30, which I am spending on 
port wine, brandy and beer," declared the 
ancient one in a deep, strong voice. "My 
teeth have gone and the liquor keeps me 
alive. As to my health, I have outlived all 
my friends." 

The order was refused, and the old man 
went away chuckling and vowing that he 
would not leave his descendants a penny. 
He lived to be a hundred - and kept his 

Those who dislike the austere type of 
centenarian may take heart when they 
think of Mr. R. H. Thomas of Ronde- 
bosch, one hundred and one when he died 
in 1947. He ate heartily, smoked fairly 

heavily all his life, and thoroughly 
enjoyed a drink. Mr. Thomas went to bed 
so late that his relatives tried to trick him 
by making all the clocks in the house an 
hour fast. He was not deceived, and 
retired towards midnight; but he made up 
for this indulgence by sleeping late and 
getting up after lunch. 

Only when nearing the century did Mr. 
Thomas find his hair becoming a little 
thin on top. Throughout his life he had 
washed his hair every day with soap and 
cold water. He never wore glasses. Mr. 
Thomas was a great walker, however, and 
until he was well into his eighties he often 
strolled into Cape Town from Newlands. 

In the nineteen-twenties there were still a 
few people with fragmentary memories of 
the abolition of slavery and the Great 
Trek. I met some who had watched the 
convict ship Neptune enter Table Bay in 
1849, and the Alabama coming in 
fourteen years later. 

"Men do not usually die; they kill them- 
selves," remarked Montaigne. No one 
looks forward to old age, though most of 
us hope to live long. The centenarians set 
us an example and show that it can be 

Chapter 3 
Throwing The Bones 

GOOI KOOKWATER waar daar goelery is. 
Yes, the Afrikaans proverb has a great 
deal of wisdom in it. "Throw boiling 
water where there is witchcraft." Most of 
those who "throw the bones" and indulge 
in other forms of black magic are 
impostors. Boiling water turns many a 
ghost into a scalded human. Nevertheless 
a growing number of scientists now admit 
that the human mind is capable of 
achievements which cannot be explained 

by any known laws. Telepathy has been 
proved by Professor Rhine; though I must 
say that I thought the Piddingtons were no 
more than clever tricksters. There is also 
much evidence in favour of clairvoyance, 
the ability to see beyond the range of 
normal sight. These powers are not 
confined to white people working under 
Rhine's laboratory conditions. South 
Africa must have known the dolosgooier, 
the man who throws the bones, for 
thousands of years before the first white 
man arrived. This dark art came from the 
caves of Europe with the Bushman and 
was passed on to the Hottentots. 

I saw the well-known alternative process 
once, performed by an old, pure Hottentot 
very far from civilisation. He used the 
entrails of a sheep instead of the bones, 
and predicted a happy and successful 
journey, very like the less imaginative 
fortune-tellers of the cities. It proved 
nothing, and I often wish that I had 
devised an exacting test for the old man 

and made him earn his tobacco. However, 
I have heard many tales of the skill of 
dolosgooiers, and some appear to be 

As a rule the bones come from the 
backbone of some small animal, but horns 
and hooves are used. Some wizards read 
the future with four bones, others require 
ten times that number. Fragments of ivory 
and the stones of wild fruits serve the 
same purpose. You smooth the sand, blow 
on the bones and cast them before you 
like dice, so that they form a pattern. The 
bones are used mainly to find lost cattle, 
though sickness and the causes of death 
are often diagnosed with the aid of the 
bones. In wild country the dolosgooier 
predicts the fortunes of the hunt. Bushmen 
rely on the bones almost every day of 
their lives, and a Bushman will sometimes 
rise uneasily during the night and consult 
the bones to find out whether there are 
lions about. 

The Rev. S. S. Dornan, who knew all the 
Kalahari people intimately, made a study 
of the bones. He said that only once in his 
life in the desert had he encountered a 
woman who could use the divining bones. 
It is almost entirely a male art. 

Soon after World War I, two constables of 
the old South West Africa Police were 
following stock-thieves in the Gobabis 
district when they came to a Bushman 
werf. The little Bushmen were friendly, 
and Constable Anthony Pebroe gave them 
tobacco. Next day an old Bushman 
offered to "throw the bones" and visualise 
the end of their chase. Pebroe was 
sceptical, but he agreed. 

"I see you coming to a great bush just as 
the sun is rising," declared the Bushman, 
studying the bones. "There are many 
Bushmen at that place. Be very careful - I 
can see an arrow sticking in the belly of 
your horse." 

Pondering over this cheering information 
Pebroe and his fellow policeman rode off 
with their coloured guides. At sunrise next 
day they did come to a thick patch of 
bush, and then Pebroe noticed some 
Bushmen running for cover. He galloped 
after them amid a shower of poisoned 
arrows. One arrow glanced off Pebroe' s 
helmet. Soon afterwards his horse 
collapsed and died. Pebroe found the 

Pebroe had other experiences with the 
dolosgooiers, for he became interested in 
the business and never missed a consul- 
tation if he could help it. One prediction, 
startling in its accuracy, was made shortly 
after he became engaged. He and his 
fiancee met an old Hottentot shepherd, 
and Pebroe asked him to throw the bones 
for them. "The bones have fallen in 
different ways," said the shepherd. "You 
will never marry." And so it turned out. 

Mr. L. R. Breytenbach, a public prose- 
cutor in three provinces of the Union, 

often met the dolosgooiers, and confessed 
that they left him completely baffled. He 
thought the Shangaans of the Transvaal 
were the most skilful operators. When 
anyone approached one of them he would 
name his fee, tell his patron which pocket 
he kept the money in, and often he would 
describe the purpose of the visit. 

In 1919, when Mr. Breytenbach was 
stationed in the Bethal district, he went to 
a dolosgooier with a farmer who had lost 
four oxen during the ploughing season. 
Old Jannewaine the dolosgooier described 
the four missing oxen and advised a 
search "on the side where the sun comes 
up, along the path by the two mountains". 
Sure enough, that was where the oxen had 

Mr. Breytenbach' s most dramatic exper- 
ience came about in the Northern 
Transvaal, as a result of a girl's request to 
a practitioner named Jilongo to throw the 
bones. She was a temporary typist, as the 
court typist was on leave in Durban. They 

locked the door so that the magistrate 
would not catch them practising black 
magic, and then Jilongo delivered his 

"The nonnie does not sit in her own chair, 
but in place of someone else," Jilongo 
began. "The owner of the chair is by the 
great waters. I think she is ill, she is so 
white. This is not nice. Ek het klaar 
gepraat. " 

When a dolosgooier says he has finished 
he usually allows no questions and 
Jilongo could not be persuaded to 
continue. Soon afterwards, however, a 
telegram arrived from the Department of 
justice offering the temporary typist a 
permanent job. The girl on leave in 
Durban had resigned owing to the death 
of her mother. Coincidence? It may have 
been nothing more. But here is another 
story which many ex-soldiers who were in 
Tobnik must remember. A Zulu soldier 
threw the bones on June 20, 1942, shortly 
before the German attack, and predicted 

the fall. Every detail was checked and 
recorded by the Rev. James Chutter, 
senior chaplain with the Second South 
African Division. (I flew to the Middle 
East in the same aircraft as Chutter, but 
escaped his fate as a prisoner-of-war.) The 
Zulu, announced: "Mkize will come and 
take us all away." Native troops used the 
word Mkize (possibly derived from 
Mkaiser of World War I) for the Germans. 
At the time of the prophecy Tobruk was 
regarded as impregnable, but before dawn 
the desert fortress had fallen. 

Students of Zulu history will recall the 
famous incident when the monster Chaka 
murdered his own mother quietly in the 
night. Then he called his dolosgooiers 
together and asked them to find the 
murderer. The wizards gave several 
names, but finally one crafty old fellow 
whispered respectfully: "Nkosinkulu, you 
killed her yourself." Chaka executed the 
false prophets and installed the old man as 
his soothsayer. 

The late Colonel H. F. Trew of the South 
African Police, one of the most valuable 
informants I ever had, told me that he had 
made a special study of the methods of the 
dolosgooier. He thought that many of 
their feats could be explained by a clever 
intelligence system, for these men had 
spies everywhere. Yet there were still 
episodes which Colonel Trew was unable 
to explain. 

Early this century Trew met a dolosgooier 
at Gaberones in Bechuanaland, and heard 
such a sensational story about this native 
that he investigated it in detail. It was said 
that the dolosgooier had thrown the bones 
for a Major Bird at the time when Colonel 
Plumer's force was advancing in an 
attempt to relieve Mafeking. The major 
had great difficulty in persuading the 
dolosgooier to relate what the bones 
indicated, but under pressure the native 
said that he saw Major Bird lying dead, 
face downwards, with nine bullets in him. 

He also described the surroundings; a 
sandy patch encircled by bush. 

Captain "Puggy" Manning of the South 
African Constabulary, later commandant 
of the police training depot, confirmed the 
whole story. Major Bird was found after 
the fight at Ramathalabama exactly as the 
dolosgooier said; face down in the sand, 
with had nine bullets in his body. 

In the realm of telepathy many thousands 
of primitive natives display inexplicable 
powers. They have never heard of extra- 
sensory perception, but strange tales are 
told - some which can never be proved 
now, others which stand up to every test. 

A friend of mine was brought up on a 
farm in Southern Rhodesia. His family 
abandoned the place in 1927, but it 
remained unsold. Twenty-two years later 
his brother went back unannounced and 
camped beside the ruined homestead to 
revive boyhood memories. He had only 
just settled down when three elderly 

natives arrived and saluted. They were the 
former cook, houseboy and head 
cattleman. "How is the young master? " 
they inquired, beaming with pleasure. 

The young master spent some time trying 
to find out how they had discovered his 
presence. They had come from a native 
reserve some way away, and no one could 
possibly have informed them that a 
member of the family was returning to the 
derelict farm. 

They could not explain it. "We knew," 
they replied to every question. "We 

One of the early tales of telepathy in 
South Africa followed the British reverse 
at Isandhlwana during the Zulu war of 
1879. Frank Brownlee, magistrate and 
author, declared that details of the battle 
were given by an old native woman to 
Europeans in King Williamstown, then a 
garrison town, on the very day of the 
disaster. The distance was seven hundred 

miles, and there was no telegraph. "I 
knew," said the old woman. 

My friend Colonel Trew set down chapter 
and verse of an incident during the 1906 
Zulu rebellion. Trew was talking to a son 
of Sir Theophilus Shepstone on the steps 
of the Pretoria Club when an old Zulu 
passed. "Is there any news from Zululand 
today?" asked Shepstone. 

The Zulu replied that there had been a 
fight at Mome Gorge, the previous 
evening and that Bambata had been killed 
and his impi "stamped flat". Trew went at 
once to a government official who was in 
touch with the rebellion, but the official 
knew nothing. Two hours later, however, 
a telegram from the Governor of Natal 
confirmed the old Zulu' s story. 

The death of Gordon at Khartoum, it is 
said, was bazaar talk in Mombasa and 
other places more than two thousand 
miles to the south the following day. 
During every African campaign news has 

flashed up and down the continent in this 
mysterious way. The rising of Lobengula 
in 1 893 was known almost immediately to 
natives over wide areas of South Africa. 

The late Mr. Owen Letcher, the South 
African author and traveller often related 
an experience of his own when travelling 
in the wilds of North-Eastern Rhodesia in 
1911. He was among the Wanda tribe, and 
one night he heard the women lamenting. 
They told him that their menfolk, serving 
in the King's African Rifles in a Somali- 
land campaign, had just been wiped out in 
battle. Six weeks later Mr. Letcher 
confirmed the story. 

Probably the most famous example of 
native telepathy occurred during the South 
African War, when a large number of 
Boer prisoners were in camp on the island 
of St. Helena, seventeen hundred miles 
from Cape Town. Mr. A. J. Williams, then 
serving in the Royal Army Medical 
Corps, recorded the incident, and there are 

many people still living who could 
support his statement. 

Before dawn one morning Mr. Williams 
heard the Boer prisoners in Deadwood 
Camp singing hymns, according to 
custom. Then the singing stopped, and he 
found the prisoners in excited groups. The 
flag over the camp was at half-mast. Mr. 
Williams asked them what had happened. 
They informed him that their native 
servants (who had accompanied their 
masters into exile from South Africa) had 
told them that President Kruger's wife had 

The camp commandant telephoned the 
cable station near Jamestown, but no such 
news had been received. Later that 
morning, however, a cable arrived 
confirming the news of the death of Mrs. 

Chapter 4 

Some Prophecies Came True 

ONCE I was told to write the death notice 
of a prophet. Newspapers of thirty years 
ago gave space generously to the passing 
of a picturesque character, whereas today 
you have to be important to secure more 
than a few lines. Nicolaas Pieter Johannes 
van Rensburg was a takhaar, a simple 
Transvaal farmer who had visions; and he 
influenced the course of history in South 

It is said that the Afrikaner race possesses, 
to a greater degree than most other 
peoples, the gift of prophecy - if indeed 

there is such a gift. President Kruger 
spoke of visions, and he had a mysterious 
knack of guiding a hunting party towards 
unseen game. Of course it may have been 
nothing more than experience above the 
average acquired through the normal 
sense channels. (There are people like my 
friend Scott-Haigh who will forecast the 
result of a general election in the Union 
with such accuracy, and in such detail, 
that it looks like clairvoyance; in fact, it is 
no more than a deep knowledge of 
politics.) Some prophets are so vague that 
their utterances may be made to fit almost 
any later event. Yet in the careers of a few 
prophets one discovers a point where 
ordinary intelligent anticipation seems to 
end and true, vivid prophecy comes into 
the picture. I must say that the life of Van 
Rensburg, the famous "Siener" van 
Rensburg, leaves me with that impression. 

It was in March 1926 that Nicolaas van 
Rensburg died. Parliament was in session, 
and I went to Mr. Harm Oost, M.L.A., the 

friendly oudstryder representing Pretoria 
District, knowing that he had been in gaol 
with Van Rensburg after the 1914 
Rebellion. "Was he really a prophet?" I 

"No one who knew him well could help 
believing in him," Harm Oost replied. 
"We called him Oom Klasie. He was a 
most lovable personality, a kind-hearted 
humanitarian, very religious, a great Bible 
student, and extremely modest and 

Harm Oost described the prophet as he 
had seen him at a recent meeting: a man 
of sixty with faraway grey eyes, a dense 
beard streaked with grey, lean and with a 
musical voice. 

"Very often Oom Klasie saw all sorts of 
symbols and images in the sky," Harm 
Oost recalled. "He saw bulls of different 
colours fighting, herds of springbok, all 
sorts of animals. Everything depended on 
the interpretation, of course, and on many 

occasions Oom Klasie could give no help 
in that direction. He declared that he did 
not always know the meaning of what he 
saw. However, there were times when his 
visions were so definite that he could feel 
and hear some future experience. 

"One day in the Fort at Johannesburg, 
where we were imprisoned, Oom Klasie 
told us then he had seen himself going 
home by train. It was so realistic that he 
had felt the movement and heard the 
whistle; and at the end of the journey he 
had seen himself talking to his wife at 

Harm Oost discussed this vision with the 
prophet, who supplied an interesting 
detail. Certain prisoners were passing out 
of the gate when one man was called back 
for something he had forgotten. Warders 
at the Fort knew nothing of an order for 
the release of prisoners. Some of the men 
approached the commandant; but he, too, 
was in the dark. Late that night, however, 
instructions arrived giving a number of 

rebels their freedom; and among them was 
the prophet Van Rensburg. As the men 
went out, a warder called: "Oom Jan, 
Oom Jan, jy vergeet jou stoel. " And one 
man returned to pick up the riempie stool 
he had made in prison. 

Such was Harm Oost's evidence in favour 
of Van Rensburg, and it made me eager to 
hear more of this strange character. I met 
other men who had known him; and in 
unexpected places I gathered significant 
episodes in his career. 

Nicolaas van Rensburg appears to have 
been a quiet, almost timid child. He was 
born in 1862 and he spent his early years 
on the farm Rietkuil near Ottosdal in the 
Western Transvaal. When he was eleven 
or twelve the farmers suspected that the 
natives were planning a rising, but young 
Van Rensburg had an early vision and 
told his parents they would be perfectly 
safe on the farm. He was right. That was 
the first important prophecy he made. For 
some time before that he had been seeing 

visions, but he had not mentioned them to 
anyone. Finally he felt impelled to speak. 

Sixteen was military age in the republic, 
and at sixteen Nicolaas van Rensburg 
went out on commando against a rebell- 
ious native chief. He had his baptism of 
fire, suffering nothing worse than an 
attack of malaria on the way home. It was 
during the South African War that he 
made his reputation as a prophet. Harm 
Oost declared that Siener van Rensburg 
knew from the start that there would be 
years of war and that the forces of the 
Republics would be defeated. 
Nevertheless, the prophet went right 
through the war, and the time soon came 
when his accurate forecasts made him a 
person of influence. 

Van Rensburg served under a number of 
Boer generals - Du Toit, De la Rey, 
Hertzog, Kemp and the great Christian de 
Wet. He moved from one commando to 
another at will, seeking anxious leaders 
and advising them. And if Nicolaas van 

Rensburg said there were no British 
troops in the neighbourhood, the burghers 
went to sleep without posting a sentry. It 
was an easy-going system, but it worked. 

Often the prophet gave warning of the 
approach of the enemy. He would have a 
vision of hats and shoes lying about in 
disorder, and that meant a hasty departure. 
In another vision he watched a huge troop 
of yellow baboons with short tails 
climbing a nek in the Magaliesberg range. 
They were the British, he said, and thanks 
to this information Commandant Jordaan 
was able to capture a whole British 
convoy with valuable stores. 

Van Rensburg' s prophecies appear in 
many records and reminiscences of the 
South African War. He figured in General 
Hertzog's war diary. Professor C. M. van 
den Heever declared that Van Rensburg 
saved President Steyn from capture by 
urging him to hide in the Bushveld. 
General De la Rey trusted the prophet 
implicitly, and his capture of Field 

Marshal Lord Methuen at Tweebos 
appears to have been due very largely to 
Van Rensburg' s advice. 

Among the close friends of the prophet on 
commando was a burgher named H. W. R. 
Kluever, who noted many of Van 
Rensburg' s sayings carefully and saw the 
predictions come true. Kluever was 
present in 1901 when the prophet 
informed General De la Rey that a 
messenger would arrive next day from a 
westerly direction. Next day a man rode in 
from German South West Africa, bearing 
an important letter from Dr. Leyds, who 
was then in Europe. 

General De la Rey sent Kluever to the 
Transvaal with official dispatches. "I can 
see my friend Kluever returning - he is 
riding a white horse," announced the 
prophet one day. Kluever arrived in camp 
at the expected time, but the horse was 
grey. Van Rensburg looked disappointed; 
then a thought occurred to him. "When 
you crossed the Vaal River, what sort of 

horse were you riding?" inquired the 

"A white horse," Kluever replied. 

A queer prediction which some may 
regard as a failure was made by Van 
Rensburg when his commandant, 
Potgieter, asked whether he would survive 
the South African War. 

"Set your mind at rest - 1 have seen you in 
the last battle," Van Rensburg replied. 

Potgieter took part in the last battle, but he 
was killed. Towards the end of the war 
Van Rensburg foretold the Treaty of 
Vereeniging, and he was credited with 
giving a wealth of detail which placed his 
description beyond guesswork. Then he 
returned to his farm Rietkuil in the 
Wolmaransstad district with his reputation 
as a prophet firmly established. 

As early as 1911 Van Rensburg had his 
first visions of World War I, a world on 
fire and again the great bulls, six or seven 

red and grey bulls, in mortal combat in the 

Then came the 1913 strike on the Rand. 
Among the burghers who were called up 
was the prophet's brother. "Don't worry, 
you'll be home in about a fortnight," 
remarked the prophet. In a fortnight the 
trouble was over. 

Far more serious developments lay over 
the horizon, and many friends noted 
Siener van Rensburg' s prophecies. This 
was the period when many people were 
influenced by his reputation, and the 
shape of things to come as the Siener 
envisaged them. Whether the Siener 
himself intended to wield such influence 
is another matter. He was a mild, peace- 
loving man. His friends remember that he 
never spoke ill of Botha and Smuts, 
though he was in the opposite political 
camp. Those who were close to Van 
Rensburg declared that he disliked talking 
politics, and it was almost impossible to 
draw him out. It must also be borne in 

mind that this humble prophet was often 
unable to interpret his own symbolic 
visions. "If he duped others, he duped 
himself," wrote a man who was no friend 
of Siener van Rensburg. 

Van Rensburg never pretended to be able 
to call up visions at will. He told his 
friends that he was most likely to see into 
the future if he lay on his left side with 
one hand under his head. 

He lost control of his lachrymal glands in 
middle-age, and was always wiping the 
tears away. This gave some people a false 
impression of him. 

Several years before the outbreak of 
World War I the prophet beheld a huge 
number 15 against a dark cloud from 
which blood issued. Then he saw General 
De la Rey returning home without his hat, 
followed by a carriage covered with 

This was Van Rensburg' s most famous 
prophecy, and by far the most dramatic of 

his career. There was no doubt about it, 
and many who are still living heard it. But 
at the risk of being wise after the event, I 
must say that Van Rensburg' s words 
should have sounded ominous. In the 
Western Transvaal, however, the vision 
was interpreted as some high honour 
which was to be bestowed on General De 
la Rey. The prophet himself inclined 
towards that belief, though he took up the 
familiar attitude that he did not know 
exactly what it meant. General De la Rey, 
who had such great faith in the prophet, 
must have spent many, many hours 
pondering over the meaning of those 

A restless spirit prevailed in the Western 
Transvaal after the outbreak of World 
War I, for it seemed to a section of the 
Oudstryders that this was their chance of 
regaining the independence of the old 
republics. Siener Van Rensburg' s prophe- 
cies appeared to favour this belief, thus 
adding to the excitement. 

One man who could have put a spark to 
this gunpowder was General De la Rey. 
Tension mounted when it became known 
that on August 15 the General would 
address a meeting at Treurfontein in the 
district. Hundreds of excited burghers 
attended that meeting with their own 
horses, rifles, ammunition and rations. 
They were ready to obey any order given 
by General De la Rey. 

"Go home and await events," was the 
unexpected advice uttered by De la Rey. 
"Remain cool and calm." So the burghers 
rode home, and the rebellion in that 
district was delayed. Wise old General 
Botha, the Prime Minister of the period, 
had seen the danger and persuaded 
General de la Rey to stand by the 

There were many who would have 
listened avidly to Siener van Rensburg at 
that meeting. The prophet disappointed 
them by remaining on his farm. 

Meanwhile a conspiracy was being 
organized by General C. F. Beyers to start 
a rebellion, with September 15 as the date. 
Beyers counted on De la Rey's help. The 
two generals met in Pretoria, and on the 
evening of September 15 they drove 
towards Johannesburg together by car. No 
one will ever know what passed through 
the mind of General de la Rey that day, 
but the figure 15 must often have risen 
before him. 

In the light of later events it seems 
probable that General Beyers intended to 
rush De la Rey to Potchefstroom, where 
thousands of Active Citizen Force men 
were in camp. Beyers hoped that the 
inspiring figure of De la Rey would tip the 
scale in favour of rebellion. De la Rey 
may or may not have been fully aware of 
the plot. 

That night fate joined in the drama. 
Bandits known as the "Foster gang" had 
entered a house at Turffontein, robbed and 
murdered a man, and escaped in a stolen 

motor-car. All cars were being stopped by 
a police cordon round the city; and the 
force had special orders to see that a car 
with three men in it - members of the 
armed and dangerous gang - did not 
escape. The police had instructions to fire 
on any car which ignored their challenge. 

Beyers knew nothing of this. When his car 
was challenged he imagined that the 
police were trying to arrest him, and he 
told his driver to defy them. Again and 
again the police sprang out and were left 
behind. Then one constable fired and 
General de la Rey was killed. 

So the meaning of the prophecy was 
revealed at last ... the number 15, General 
de la Rey returning home without his hat, 
the carriage covered with flowers. "Some 
high honour," Van Rensburg had said. 
General de la Rey was given a State 

Always there was some truth in the 
visions of Van Rensburg, and his own 

inability (at times, but not always) to 
interpret the symbols made one of the 
most baffling sides of his nature. Some- 
times previous experience guided him; he 
knew some of the friendly and unfriendly 
symbols. But with all his strange power he 
could not save his friend De la Rey, 
though he would certainly have done so if 
he could have guessed the truth behind his 
mysterious vision. 

Siener van Rensburg rode away from his 
farm and joined the rebels, but he carried 
no arms. Once again he took up the 
position of trusted adviser. Again he saw 
the enemy in the form of animals. General 
Kemp was his leader. Kemp listened 
carefully to everything that Van Rensburg 
had to say. When they were in the desert 
to the west of Kuruman the rebels ran 
short of water. Kemp decided to make for 
a well, but the prophet told him it was 
being guarded by government troops. 
Kemp then approached cautiously, saw 
the troops over the dunes and estimated 

that his forces were strong enough to take 
the position. He was successful. Later on 
Kemp was almost surrounded, but Van 
Rensburg indicated the way out and the 
rebels escaped. There came a time, 
however, when the rebel commando was 
rounded up. Van Rensburg had forecast 
capture, and told his comrades that they 
would be taken to Johannesburg by train. 

I have already mentioned the prophet's 
experiences in the Fort. He had to submit 
to his beard being shaved off, and this he 
looked upon as one of the great humilia- 
tions of his life. It was not often that his 
philosophic outlook deserted him. 

During the last year of World War I, the 
prophet told his friends in the Wolma- 
ransstad district that a great plague would 
sweep the world, and that South Africa 
would be affected. In the month of 
October came the so-called Spanish 
influenza, a scourge more deadly than 
bubonic plague. 

Two white horses, tired and thin, appeared 
before Van Rensburg' s eyes after the 
armistice. He had seen horses like that 
before, and thus he was able to find a 
meaning. It was the post-war depression. 

Towards the end of 1921 there was a 
meeting between General Christian de 
Wet and Siener van Rensburg at the house 
of Mr. Gert Malan, principal of the 
Roodepoort farm school near Dewetsdorp, 
Orange Free State. The wives of Mr. 
Malan and General de Wet, and a Mr. 
Cornells Kruger, were also present. After 
lunch General de Wet announced that the 
prophet had something to say. 

"I do not know exactly what it means," 
began the prophet in his traditional 
manner, "but I have seen General de Wet 
riding south from Bloemfontein with 
thousands of people following him. At the 
same time there was a dark cloud over 

Then Van Rensburg turned to Kruger (a 
Hollander by birth) and went on: 
"Hollandertjie, you are also under the 
dark cloud, but God will protect you and 
not a hair on your head will be harmed." 

Six months later General de Wet died in 
Bloemfontein. The General's horse 
followed the coffin, and thousands made 
their way in procession to the Women's 
Monument, south of the town, for the 
burial of the South African War hero. 

Martial law was in force in Johannesburg 
at that time. The revolution was on, and 
there was fighting along the length of the 
Reef. Cornells Kruger had to pass through 
the danger zone on urgent business. He 
was warned by the railway authorities that 
he would have to travel at his own risk; 
and indeed some of the bullets passed 
very close to him. He was one of those 
who had reason to remember that 
prophecy of Siener van Rensburg. 

Kruger provided a sidelight on General de 
Wet's attitude towards Van Rensburg. 
They were talking over old times on the 
veld during the South African War and 
the Rebellion when the General remarked: 
"Ou Nicolaas, if you imagine that you are 
a prophet I'll knock you out. When you 
saw those visions, that was God working 
on our behalf." 

I have said that the prophet disliked 
political discussions. In December 1923, 
however, he informed a Vryburg farmer, 
Mr. B. Mussman, that General Smuts 
would soon dissolve Parliament and hold 
a general election, and that the National- 
ists would win. Mussman said he could 
not believe it, because Parliament had 
only been elected in 1921. Nevertheless, 
General Smuts dissolved Parliament a few 
months later, and the Nationalist-Labour 
government came into power. 

As far back as 1925 the prophet saw a 
wagon leaving Cape Town, a Boer flag 
and thousands of men and women round a 

koppie. "It is not a war, it is a trek," he 
said. Years afterwards his hearers realised 
that they had been given the first 
description of the Voortrekker centenary 
celebrations held in 1938. 

Towards the end of his life Siener van 
Rensburg had a vision which was 
interpreted (after the event) to refer to the 
1926 alluvial diamond rush at 
Lichtenburg. Sometime before that the 
prophet had a clear vision of one of his 
sons holding a diamond as large as a 
man's thumb. This son went to the 
diggings, worked hard for six months, and 
then wrote home saying that he had found 
nothing. He had given up hope, and 
suggested returning home. "Try again for 
a few more days," advised the father. The 
son turned up a forty-carat diamond. 
"Now your luck has ended - let your 
brother take over," wrote the father. The 
brother had a marvellous run of luck, 
finding small diamonds almost every 
week he was on the diggings. 

Five of the last prophecies made by Siener 
van Rensburg were printed in the "Cape 
Times" on March 16, 1926, and today his 
reputation might stand or fall by those 
remarkable predictions alone. The 
newspaper files bear witness. 

(1) Hereniging is shaping itself on the 
horizon with the shade of General 
Botha hovering over all. (Fusion of 
the South African Party and the old 
Nationalist Party came about in 

(2) There will be an orgy of war in 
which white and black will be 
equally involved. (An easy prophecy 
ten years later, but in 1926 there were 
no such fears anywhere in the world.) 

(3) A mealie harvest will be wasted. 
(Too vague. No areas or dates given.) 

(4) A new diamond mine will be 
discovered. (Alexander Bay the 
following year.) 

(5) Afrikaner exiles will return from the 
Argentine. (They did.) Siener van 
Rensburg is said to have foreseen his 
own death, which occurred on March 
11, 1926 on his farm Rietkuil in the 
Wolmaransstad district. More than 
eight hundred people attended the 
funeral of the gentle and beloved 

One of the officiating ministers took as 
his text Van Rensburg' s own motto: "Die 
Here regeer". 

Van Rensburg' s sons Niklaas and 
Johannes remained on the farm after their 
father' s death. 

I never met the man, but I can imagine 
him from Harm Oost's story. "When a 
vision appeared, he felt a pressure in his 
head," said Harm Oost. "Then he would 
go off by himself and fall into a sort of 
trance. If you had known that man you 
would believe in him now." 

It is difficult not to believe in Siener van 
Rensburg. His very mistakes suggest that 
he saw visions, and he never pretended 
that his is interpretations were unerring. 

Chapter 5 

The Ridgeback Mystery 

HUMANS LOVE dogs and mysteries. That 
may explain why the Rhodesian ridgeback 
has become South Africa's favourite dog. 
Whenever I study the fiddle-shaped strip 
of hair bent forwards, the strange escut- 
cheon of the breed, I find myself trying to 
peer through the mists of time in search of 
the origin of this magnificent, fawn- 
coloured hound. 

Many ridgeback owners have accepted a 
theory that the ancestors of their dogs 
came long ago from the island of Phu 

Quoc in the Gulf of Siam. Nowhere else 
in the world, except South Africa and Phu 
Quoc, are ridged dogs part of the scenery. 
Moreover the South African ridgeback 
strongly resembles the Phu Quoc dog in 
build, height, weight and colour. You find 
the ridge more prominent in the Phu 
Quoc, but that is a detail. These dogs have 
ancestors in common, and the ridge 
proclaims them as blood relatives in spite 
of the thousands of miles of sea which 
separate them. 

Any layman who enters the sacred realm 
of thoroughbred dogs and upsets firm 
beliefs is liable to find a growling pack of 
owners snapping at his heels. I am taking 
this risk when I declare firmly that our 
popular ridgebacks did not come from 
Indo-China. All the experts say so, and all 
the experts are wrong. It is a romantic 
story, an old story with twists and 

According to the experts, the natives of 
Phu Quoc bred their ridgebacks as hunting 

Humans love dogs and mysteries. That may explain why the Rhodesian Ridgeback has become South 
Africa's favourite dog. 

dogs and sold them on the mainland of 
Indochina. Phoenician traders, or some 
other very early navigators, brought 
specimens of the Phu Quoc to South 
Africa, and so the ridge appeared in many 
of the dogs owned by the Hottentots. 

Captain T. C. Hawley and Mr. G. C. Dry, 
in a brochure published by the Transvaal 
Rhodesian Ridgeback Club in 1949, 
suggested that the Hottentots, who have 
Asiatic features, migrated overland all the 
way from the East, bringing Phu Quoc 
dogs with them. This would have been a 
remarkable journey, both for dogs and 
men. But there was no such journey. 

Ridgeback owners regard their dogs as 
true South Africans, the only pure-bred 
dogs that really belong to the country. I 
hope to show that the ridgeback is an ever 
better South African than proud owners 
imagine. I make bold to say that the 
ridgeback has no canine Indo-Chinese 

First of all, what is a ridgeback? The 
breed is so new that standards vary, and if 
my description does not tally with the 
views of the experts I shall be torn to 
pieces. (Yes, the dog world is a jealous 
world.) However, an owner I trust tells me 
that the most important point of all is the 
mysterious ridge, and a dog without a 
clearly-defined ridge is not recognised as 
a member of the breed. "The ridge should 
be tapering and symmetrical and should 
include two identical "crowns" opposite 
one another. Moreover, the ridge should 
start just behind the shoulders (where it is 
broad) and should continue up to a point 
between the prominence of the hips. 

Some years ago I ventured on a 
description which awarded the ideal 
ridgeback a black nose. This brought me a 
reprimand from the owner of a brown- 
nosed, near-champion ridgeback, one of 
the leading six in the country. The owner 
informed me that the pure-bred ridgeback 
should be a strong and active dog, capable 

of great endurance with a fair amount of 
speed. The South African Police started 
training ridgebacks years ago, and it is 
possible that this breed may replace the 
Doberman as the finest dog on a scent. 
Ridgebacks will follow a spoor on the 
veld at fifteen miles an hour. They also 
make grand watchdogs. 

The ridgeback has a fairly long head with 
flat skull and powerful muzzle. In colour, 
a short wheaten coat is preferred, fawn 
and brown are permissible and white 
points are allowed. A good show-dog 
must have a deep chest and strong legs. 

Now glance at the ridgeback as it was in 
the mongrel days before shows. Dogs 
were leaping on the beach when the 
Portuguese explorers stepped on to South 
African soil, and there must have been 
ridgebacks in the welcoming committee. 
You may remember Vasco da Gama's 
report: "The Hottentots of St. Helena Bay 
have numerous dogs which resemble 
those of Portugal and bark like them." 

Theal the historian, writing very early this 
century and many years before the 
ridgeback became fashionable, remarked: 
"The principal property of the Hottentots 
consisted of horned cattle and sheep ... 
The only other domestic animal was the 
dog. He was an ugly creature, his body 
being shaped like that of a jackal, and the 
hair on his spine being turned forward; 
but he was a faithful, serviceable animal 
of his kind." 

It is estimated that the Hottentots migrated 
into Southern Africa during the fourteenth 
century, and there is little doubt that they 
brought the forerunners of the ridgebacks 
with them. One might have expected a 
hunting people like the Bushmen to have 
possessed dogs. They arrived in the south 
centuries before the Hottentots, and dogs 
would have aided them enormously in 
their dangerous way of life. Cave men in 
many lands tamed the wolf and the fox, 
the jackal and coyote. It was one of 
mankind's great early discoveries, like 

stone weapons and fire. They captured the 
puppies of wild members of the dog tribe 
and taught them to guard the human 
families, to scent danger and bring the 
wounded quarry to bay. There may have 
been unknown species of wild dog, now 
extinct, from which the tame dogs of the 
world are descended; or Darwin may have 
been right when he said that our dogs 
were originally wolves of various species. 
It is a fact that where you find savage 
hunters, the dogs bear a strong 
resemblance to the wild dog species of the 
territory. Even in civilised lands, the 
likeness often remains; the dogs of Egypt 
are obviously related to the wolves of 
Egypt; and many of the dogs of the 
surviving Bushmen in Southern Africa are 
clearly cousins of the black-backed jackal. 

Yet I think it can be assumed that the 
Bushmen never succeeded in taming dogs, 
and that they secured their first dogs from 
the Hottentots. You find the bones of dogs 
in the oldest caves of Europe; and the 

cave painters of France and Spain 
depicted man's oldest friend in many a 
hunting scene. Bushman caves in South 
Africa, have yielded many queer relics; 
but strange to say, you do not find the 
remains of dogs (except in comparatively 
recent middens) or pictures of dogs. 

So you have to go back to the Hottentot, 
the origin of the Hottentot, to discover the 
origin of the ridgeback. Scientists agree 
that the Hottentot has a lot of Bushman 
blood in him. It seems that a race of 
Hamites moved southwards from Egypt 
and mingled with the Bushmen they 
encountered in the neighbourhood of the 
Great Lakes. Thus a new race arose, with 
a click language like that of the Bushmen, 
yet retaining something of the old Hamitic 
structure. These people, the Hottentots, 
travelled on into the south with their cattle 
(known much later as Afrikander cattle), 
their sheep and their dogs. All these 
domestic animals were toughened by the 
long trek through the tropical bush to the 

healthy lands of the south. The dog met 
every wild beast from the jackal to the 
lion, and those that survived were ideal 
hunting dogs. 

No one will ever know where and when 
the ridgeback developed its ridge of hair. 
Egypt's most famous dog was the 
greyhound, and there is still a hint of the 
greyhound in the ridgeback. But there is 
not a scrap of evidence to suggest that any 
ridged species of dog had its origin in 
Egypt. The ridge characteristic may have 
arisen during the trek or after the 
Hottentot tribes had settled in South West 
Africa and South Africa. 

Apparently the "Hottentot dog" (as the old 
ridgeback was called) aroused no interest 
among white people in South Africa until 
the middle of last century when the 
farmers round Swellendam developed a 
breed for hunting in the mountains. This 
was a cross between the boerhond (a 
mongrel, according to my Afrikaans 
dictionary) and the Hottentot dog, with a 

dash of Irish terrier blood. These dogs had 
square jaws and were noted for their 
courage. The breed is now extinct. 

One of the pioneer missionaries to settle 
in what is now Rhodesia was the Rev. 
Charles Helm, who travelled up by wagon 
in 1875 from Swellendam. He had his 
wife and daughter (afterwards Mrs. Jessie 
Lovemore) with him. Mrs. Lovemore has 
stated that some well-wisher in the 
Swellendam district presented her father 
with a pair of ridgebacks. Helm's ridge- 
backs are regarded as the progenitors of 
the modern Rhodesian ridgebacks. 
Cornells van Rooyen, the big game hunter 
and friend of Selous, borrowed the dogs 
from Helm and bred a pack for hunting. 
Van Rooyen had trekked into 
Matabeleland with his father. He became 
an ivory hunter at the age of fourteen, and 
killed eight elephants during his first 
season. "A pleasant, intelligent man who 
spoke good English," was a description of 
Van Rooyen which I found. "He was a 

great admirer of Selous, though he 
himself was no mean hunter." Such was 
the man who founded the Rhodesian 
ridgeback breed. 

For years the early ridgebacks were 
known as lion dogs, and a memorable 
sight it was to watch a fearless pack 
baying a lion and finally dashing in to kill 
the lord of the veld. Today, however, the 
lion dog is a separate breed, about the size 
of a large Alsatian, with a large "ruff of 
hair like a lion's mane. The ridge seems to 
have diminished or disappeared in this 

Rhodesian pioneers found the ridgeback- 
lion dog extremely useful, and it is on 
record that a mining commissioner 
secured another pair from Ceres towards 
the end of last century. A peculiar story 
which is perfectly true also has a bearing 
on the Rhodesian breed. Mr. J. N. R. 
Labuschagne, a member of the Moodie 
trek of 1896, went down to Beira three 
years later and brought a large black dog 

called Voorman for twenty pounds on 
board a German ship. This somewhat 
mysterious dog had a ridge. Labuschagne 
then bought a red pointer bitch, and 
developed a ridgeback breed which be- 
came popular in the Chipinga district. For 
nearly three decades after that, however, 
the various ridgeback types in Rhodesia 
were looked upon as useful mongrels. It 
was not until the Salisbury dog show of 
1927 that ridgebacks were exhibited as a 
distinct breed. 

No wonder Rhodesians look upon their 
ridgebacks with pride, for they grew up 
out of pioneer conditions. These were the 
dogs they depended on to guard their 
camps, to keep hyenas and jackals and 
even lions away from their tents. Many a 
ridgeback was carried off by a leopard 
when it ventured too far from the camp 
fire; the great cats loved dog meat. 

Ridgebacks pursued elephants, rhino, 
buffalo. The bravest dogs of other breeds 
flinched when they scented lion for the 

first time. Ridgebacks stood their ground, 
held the lion at bay and drew its attention 
from their master. 

So the brave ridgeback returned south of 
the Limpopo in a new, pure form, a 
standardised ridgeback about twenty-six 
inches in height, weighing up to seventy- 
five pounds. A club was formed in the 
Transvaal in 1945 to maintain the purity 
of the breed in the Union. More recently 
the ridgeback has ousted the collie, the 
cocker spaniel, the bulldog and other old 
South African favourites, and is holding 
its own easily as South Africa's typical 
and best loved dog. The rise of the 
ridgeback is all the more remarkable when 
you consider the fact that as recently as 
1920, two specimens were exhibited in 
the Pretoria Zoo as curiosities. 

Ridgebacks were first seen in England in 
1928, when Mrs. Foljamb imported two 
specimens. They aroused great interest at 
the Kennel Club Show at the Crystal 
Palace. Ridgebacks are still rare at shows 

in England. Banshee, a four-month-old 
bitch, was presented to the Queen, and 
Princess Elizabeth received a dog puppy 
named Hoolie, during the 1947 Royal 
visit to Rhodesia. These were both 
magnificent specimens of the Rhodesian 
ridgeback breed, a perfect pair of dark 
wheaten colour. 

Canadians have imported ridgebacks to 
hunt the cougar or "mountain lion". There 
are hundreds of ridgebacks in the United 
States; and in 1955 the ridgeback was 
admitted to the American Kennel Club 
stud book - the first new breed to be 
admitted in ten years and the one hundred 
and twelfth breed to be so honoured. 
Some dogs have taken thousands of years 
to reach the aristocracy. The ridgeback 
has come up to nobility within a few 

Meanwhile some authorities have said 
that the old Hottentot dog with the ridge is 
extinct. I doubt whether it has died out 
completely, for I saw more than one 

specimen in 1936 at a Kalahari camp 
where a band of Bushmen had gathered. 
My old friend, the late Donald Bain, 
desert guide and hunter, pointed out these 
dogs to me. "Bushmen never sell their 
dogs," Bain declared. "The ridgeback type 
owned by the Bushmen is becoming rare, 
and I think they are the finest hunting 
dogs in the world. They will catch a jackal 
within twenty yards. You will never hear 
them bark unless a lion comes too close to 
the camp. And when old people are left in 
the desert to die, according to Bushman 
custom, the dogs stay on and guard them 
to the end." 

Now to return to the ridged Phu Quoc on 
the other side of the world. What is this 
dog? I have seen only photographs of the 
Phu Quoc, for it is a rare dog and is said 
to be dying out. Marquis Barfhelemy, who 
held a concession from the French 
Government for the island of Phu Quoc, 
once sent three of the dogs to the Paris 
Zoo; but dog fanciers in Britain and 

America read the first detailed accounts of 
the Phu Quoc shortly before World War 
II. Clifford Hubbard, author of authori- 
tative works on dogs and their origin, then 
proclaimed the Phu Quoc as the ancestor 
of the ridgeback. 

You might easily form the same 
impression. Captain R. D. S. Gwatkin, 
one of the leading South African 
authorities on the ridgeback, wrote in 
1933 that the Phu Quoc with its long 
head, reddish eyes, erect ears, tawny coat 
with darker hair on the back, and drawn 
up belly, irresistibly recalled the jackal. 
On the other hand the forward turned-up 
hair on the spine was shared only by the 
Hottentot dog. 

Gwatkin stated that certain dogs of the 
East were probably derived from the 
Egyptian jackal, the species which 
produced the chow, the edible dog of 
China, and other related breeds. The 
ridge, according to Gwatkin, emerged in 
one of these Eastern breeds. Gwatkin 

argues that the Phu Quoc ridgeback must 
have been taken to South Africa, because 
the Easterners were navigators and the 
Hottentots were not. He quotes the slender 
evidence of a Malayan canoe washed up 
on the beach at Port Elizabeth as proof. 

Other authorities have fallen into the same 
trap. Hubbard credits the Phoenicians with 
introducing the dog into Africa, and says 
that the journey must have been made by 
sea, or other ridgeback breeds would have 
been left along the overland line of march. 
Hubbard gives the bloodhound as another 
important ancestor of the ridgeback, as 
bloodhounds were sent to South Africa to 
follow runaway slaves. 

I am unable to find a trace of evidence 
fixing the Phu Quoc as an ancient breed of 
dog. There is no reason why a lion dog 
should have originated on an island in the 
Gulf of Siam, and in fact it did not do so. 
Phoenicians probably did sail round 
Africa six hundred years before Christ, 
but no historian has found records of a 

Phoenician voyage to Siam and then to 
South Africa. 

Arabs were carrying slaves in their dhows 
from East Africa to China a thousand 
years ago. It may have been an Arab 
navigator, or a Portuguese, or a Dutch 
skipper only a few centuries ago, who 
landed ridgeback dogs on Phu Quoc 
island. These dogs undoubtedly travelled 
from west to east. There was a huge 
reservoir of ridgebacks in Africa; but on 
the island, by all accounts, there were 
never very many. Dog experts who favour 
the Phu Quoc origin obviously never 
thought about it very much. They were 
not historians. They tried to make the tail 
wag the dog. 

On the island, the ridgeback kept nearly 
all of its African characteristics. It must 
have mixed with the chow, for the Phu 
Quoc has a blackish tongue and some- 
times a black roof to the mouth. Other- 
wise it is still the old African ridgeback, 

with a purity which it could have 
maintained only in isolation. 

Call him what you will, rifrughond or 
pronkrug, leeuhond or saalrughond, 
Hottentot dog or Rhodesian ridgeback. He 
is good tempered with children, graceful 
in movement, a "one-man" dog with as 
fine and faithful a character as any. The 
ridgeback is no oriental but a true South 

And that mysterious ridge of hair bent 
forwards, the mark of the breed? That 
must be a legacy of the wild, birthplace of 
all the world's dogs, but so long ago that 
the animal that bestowed it will never be 
traced now. 

Chapter 6 

Genevieve In The Jungle 

WHEN I was too young to foist myself on 
expeditions going to romantic places I 
formed the habit of watching the adven- 
turers depart. Thus I stood in the rain 
outside the City Hall in Cape Town on 
August 29, 1913, an envious schoolboy 
staring at the weirdest motor contraption 
ever seen in the city. 

Little did I realize that the shadow of 
death hung over Captain Raleigh Napier 
Kelsey, leader of that expedition. He was 
the first motorist to leave Cape Town for 
Cairo, and I always wanted to uncover the 
narrative of events along the way as the 
doomed man rode towards the final 
tragedy. No one made a book of it, though 
it was a far more hazardous effort than 
later exploits which are now regarded as 
epic journeys. 

To satisfy my curiosity at last, I have 
followed the tracks of those almost 
forgotten pioneers. The late Mr. Napier 
Devitt, well known South African 
magistrate and author, was a cousin of 
Captain Kelsey, and he gave me generous 
help shortly before his death. Here and 
there I found other people who 
remembered the expedition. Finally the 
newspaper files, diaries and letters 
enabled me to piece the story together and 
learn poor Kelsey' s secret. 

I think most people enjoyed motoring far 
more in those days when lamps were lit 
with matches and it was regarded as a 
triumph on a cold morning when the 
handle started the engine. Some recapture 
the charm by running veteran and vintage 
cars. The first car I ever drove was an 
1898 Benz. I was a schoolboy, and two 
friends had bought this relic from a 
scrapheap for fifteen shillings and 
transformed it into a panting monster 
capable of occasional short journeys. 
Never again have I felt the same pride at 
the wheel. 

The car I was studying that day in 1913 
was a great deal better than the Benz. She 
was a Scot, a Genevieve of the future 
London-Brighton rally; but she had been 
named Louise of Argyll by the Duchess of 
Argyll. Her horse-power was twenty-five 
to fifty, and even in those days she was 
equipped with front-wheel brakes. Made 
by the Argyll Company, she had a most 
peculiar body design. It was composed of 

two large khaki-painted steel shells which 
could be lifted off the car and bolted 
together end to end, forming a small 
pontoon. With this device, which would 
float a load of three tons, the motorists 
hoped to cross unbridged rivers. A high 
green tent, drawn over hoops, sheltered 
the members of the party and their heap of 
stores, while surplus kit was carried in a 
large trailer. 

Experienced motorists in Cape Town 
shook their heads and declared that this 
lumbering power-driven wagon was 
bound to come to grief. The design was 
faulty, they said, and the load was too 
heavy. They were right, though the car 
went a great deal farther than most people 
imagined it would be possible for any car 
to go at that uncertain period of motoring. 

Captain Kelsey was then a man of thirty- 
three, a regular army officer. He had 
served in the South African War and had 
always longed to see the veld again. His 
father was a wealthy man, and in various 

other ways Captain Kelsey raised funds 
for this Cape to Cairo expedition. The 
Argyll firm presented him with the car, of 
a chassis type which was stated to have 
given excellent service under rough 
conditions in the Argentine. One huge 
ranch there had ordered thirty similar cars 
as a result of tests The makers claimed 
that the engine would continue to work 
under water, and drove it through part of 
Loch Lomond where the water was two 
and a half feet deep The wheels were forty 
inches in diameter, and spare wheels 
could be bolted to the main wheels to 
provide a broader tread in sand or mud. 

Kelsey hoped to compile a scientific 
report on the whole route, including 
possible white settlement areas. Two 
members of the expedition, Mr. J. C. 
Pickersgill Cunliffe and Mr. J. M. Gilli- 
land, were selected as trained observers 
for this purpose. Another young man, 
Count Cornegliano, was sent ahead to 
Northern Rhodesia to organise petrol 

supplies. There he appears to have gone 
hunting and faded out of the scene, for the 
meagre records of the ill-fated expedition 
do not mention him again. Mr. J. Scott- 
Brown was the photographer and 
cinematographer, an enterprising pioneer 
among newsreel-camera men. He had 
been in the Sudan, filming game, and had 
just come from the Balkan war. Finally 
there was Mr. Angus McAskill, really the 
most important member of the party, for 
he had been lent by the makers of the car 
and he was the only man who could drive 
and repair it. 

McAskill drove into the grounds of 
Buckingham Palace shortly before the 
expedition left England, and Scott-Brown 
took his first pictures while King George 
V talked to the members and inspected the 
car. Kelsey and his party landed in Cape 
Town from the Balmoral Castle early in 
August 1913, but the car arrived by a later 

I have described 1913 as an uncertain 
period of motoring. It was still possible to 
open up new routes close to Cape Town, 
and during that year the sandy run to Cape 
Point was accomplished for the first time. 
Six years before Kelsey's expedition, 
however, Mr. Frank Connock had covered 
the wagon track from Durban to 
Johannesburg and on to Cape Town, 
fourteen hundred miles in a single- 
cylinder car of eight horse-power. A far 
more sensational journey of 1907 was that 
of Lieut. Graetz, a German, who set out 
from Dar-es-Salaam and arrived in 
Johannesburg sixteen months later. Graetz 
had to make his own bridges and cut a 
passage for his car through many a mile of 
bush. He had covered nearly four 
thousand miles, and he had hoped to cross 
Africa from German East to Swakopmund 
in German South West Africa; but for 
some reason he abandoned the venture in 
Johannesburg. Possibly his feat had 

encouraged Kelsey to attempt the more 
ambitious journey. 

"Mind you, it is quite an erroneous idea 
that we are going to sit in a luxurious car 
at our ease looking at the scenery," Kelsey 
told the reporters in Cape Town. "Most of 
the time only one man will be in the car, 
and we shall probably take three or four 
hours on occasions to cover one mile. We 
shall walk through all the bad parts, for 
the car must be saved as much strain as 
possible. It is very heavy - almost too 
heavy, for when packed it weighs five 

Kelsey carried picks, shovels, jacks and 
tools to build light bridges over small 
streams. Three petrol tanks held a total of 
sixty gallons. The car had done ten miles 
to the gallon in England, but under South 
African conditions the car sometimes used 
a gallon every three miles. Some 
misguided technical expert had advised 
Kelsey to have a special back-axle fitted 

without differential gear. This was the 
cause of many delays and much trouble. 

Cape Town motorists inspected the Argyll 
and its equipment in Benjamin and 
Lawton's showroom. They climbed into 
the open body, seven feet long and 
curving inwards. Kelsey carried a 
gramophone of the old-fashioned horn 
type, and he played a record of a lamb 
bleating. This cunning device, he 
explained, would bring lions within range 
of the cine-camera. 

Royal Automobile Club members 
entertained Kelsey and his companions to 
lunch at the Opera House restaurant, with 
Dr. Barnard Fuller in the chair. Mr. Harry 
Hands, Mayor of Cape Town, told the 
gathering that he was a motorist only by 
the indulgence of his friends. "They are 
the kindest and most decent people 
imaginable," Mr. Hands added. "They are 
always ready to sacrifice their own 
comfort and give someone a lift, and the 

time may come when I shall be a motorist 

Yes, those were pioneer days, but Kelsey 
assured the gathering that he would 
succeed. "I have extreme faith in the 
members of the expedition," Kelsey 
declared. "They are all determined to see 
the car through, and it is my firm opinion 
that if there was only one man left the car 
would reach Cairo. We know there are 
swamps and sandy deserts and unfriendly 
tribes ahead of us - yet the longer we 
remain in Cape Town the more we realize 
that the exploit is going to be easier than 
we anticipated when we left England." 

Kelsey stated that the British Government 
was not financing the expedition, but it 
had given him letters which would help 
him in foreign colonies. "The expedition 
is being financed by its members and 
certain gentlemen in England have also 
contributed," he said. "Expenses are going 
to be heavy for native labour. This is more 
a matter of money than of pluck and 

endurance. This is essentially a private 
venture, though national in a sense. 
People in England are ignorant of 
Northern Rhodesia and know nothing of 
German East Africa. We shall explore 
these territories and gather as much 
information as we can." 

According to Kelsey's estimate, the 
journey from Cape Town to Cairo would 
take eight months. "I expect to reach 
Johannesburg in two or three days," he 
said. "The route in Rhodesia will be 
roughly that of the railway, but in Central 
Africa I intend to make wide deviations to 
visit districts as yet but little-known to 
white men - territories where no motor- 
car has ever been seen before." 

So there was the tented car with its trailer 
outside the City Hall, ready for the road. 
Sir Frederic de Waal, Administrator of the 
Cape, presented a flag composed of the 
Turkish star and crescent at one end, the 
arms of the Cape Province at the other and 
the Union Jack in the centre. "All 

explorers are advance guards of 
civilisation," Sir Frederic told them. "You 
are the first ever to undertake this journey, 
and you will face great risks from lions 
and leopards and fever, but I am fairly 
sure that you will not exceed the speed 

The crowd laughed at the joke, but Sir 
Frederic had made an unintentional 

"We'll do our best," said Kelsey in reply. 

Pickersgill Cunliffe then rode ahead on 
his Triumph motorcycle. He was the 
expedition's scout, and he filled that role 
until almost the end of the journey. 
Shortly before noon the crowd gave three 
cheers and the Argyll drove away. Mr. 
Reuben Goldberg accompanied Kelsey to 
pilot him as far as Maitland, and Mr. R. P. 
Fitzgerald and other members of the 
Royal Automobile Club followed as an 

I was deeply impressed by this ceremony. 
Now that I am following the expedition 
after more than forty years, however, I am 
discovering one anti-climax after another. 
It seems that Kelsey had covered only a 
couple of miles of the seven thousand 
mile route before the overheated radiator 
demanded attention. There was tyre 
trouble at Parow. Soon afterwards the 
radiator had to be repaired again, and late 
that night the explorers dropped thank- 
fully into bed at the Kraaifontein hotel. 
Cunliffe meanwhile had reached Paarl, 
where he found a number of local 
motorists waiting to welcome the 
expedition. "I found the road very bumpy 
and hard to follow," reported Cunliffe. 
And when Kelsey did not arrive, Cunliffe 
declared: "They must have lost their way 
in the forest." 

Next day the Argyll thundered into Paarl, 
and there she remained for several days 
while drastic alterations were made. 
Kelsey had realized that the engine simply 

could not pull the load. He sent the trailer, 
tents, blankets, spare parts and other 
equipment by rail to Broken Hill. A 
blacksmith cut down the steel body, so 
that the chassis was relieved of a weight 
of two tons. 

No longer was it possible to use the steel 
shells, but it is doubtful whether such a 
pontoon would have carried the car. The 
radiator had to be sent back to Cape Town 
for repair. Kelsey and his men spent their 
days pleasantly climbing the mountain 
and visiting fruit farms. 

I think that was part of the magic of old- 
time motoring. You were on a roulette 
wheel, and you never knew where it 
would stop; what places you would come 
to know much better than you expected; 
what people you would meet. Today a 
village is an unknown blur as you pass by 
on the national road at high speed. 
Motorists of old made friends. 

Kelsey called at many karoo farms. Mrs. 
W. Wilkinson, who was at Brakfontein, 
fifty-seven miles from Beaufort West, told 
me how the roaring, steaming Argyll 
came up to their homestead. The 
expedition stayed there for the night, and 
the family agreed that Kelsey was a 
charming man. In the morning, relays of 
helpers carried gallon after gallon of 
boiling water for the radiator before 
McAskill could start the engine. 
Nevertheless the Argyll reached Beaufort 
West three days after leaving Paarl. All 
the twenty car owners in the Beaufort 
West district turned out to meet Kelsey, 
and photographs show the women 
wearing long dust-coats, veils and motor- 

Kelsey was welcomed to Kimberley by 
the deputy mayor on the City Hall steps. 
"Early difficulties inseparable from all 
great undertakings have been overcome," 
Kelsey wrote to a friend. "Lessons learned 
in the hard school of experience have 

proved valuable. We have found the road 
from Cape Town rough, yet occasionally 
our speedometer has reached thirty-five 
miles an hour! Across the veld the road is 
just a track which wagons have taken for 
ages past. When it becomes too rough, or 
when the wheel-ruts become too deep, a 
wagon will strike a new course, other 
wagons follow and so a new track is 
made. To prevent the main roads being 
washed away, mounds as high as two feet 
are built at right angles across them, the 
object being to divert the water so that it 
will not flow along the ruts and create 
deep channels. The unwary motorist 
breaks springs if he comes upon one of 
these mounds at speed. All along they 
have been our great trouble. Continually 
slowing down and picking up speed again 
is a strain on the engine. A small, light car 
can go across the mounds diagonally, and 
then the shock is only slight. Our car is 
big and the track is usually narrow, so we 
have to go straight at them. The occupants 

of the back seat are continually pounded 

You may remember that Kelsey had given 
an estimate of two or three days for the 
run from Cape Town to Johannesburg. He 
took nearly twenty days, and one Rand 
newspaper commented: "Captain Kelsey 
seems to be inadequately prepared and 
informed and has but the faintest idea of 
the difficulties he will encounter. He will 
need £1,500 for native labour. The car is 
an unsuitable monster." 

Kelsey replied that a light car would not 
carry the tools, spares and ammunition. 
Cinema film alone weighed one 
hundredweight. Food and petrol depots 
had been established at Bulawayo, Aber- 
corn, Tabora, Kampala and Khartoum. 
Apart from those points he had no fixed 
idea of the route he would follow, and no 
reliable maps. 

"Members of this expedition have placed 
their last penny in it," Kelsey stated. "We 

are all taking it very seriously and we 
mean to get through. At the end lectures 
will be given, illustrated with cinema 

Ten days after leaving Johannesburg, 
Scott-Brown was cranking his camera 
while the Argyll drove past the statue of 
Rhodes in Bulawayo. They were making 
better time. Donkeys had hauled the car 
through the dry bed of the Limpopo. Two 
days were spent on the huge Liebig ranch, 
in the lion country north of the river. Then 
they had pressed on through the green 
bush country and the Matopos. They spent 
nine days in Bulawayo, railing cases of 
petrol ahead and preparing the car for the 
ordeal facing them. They knew it would 
be an ordeal, though not one of them 
could have imagined the hardships and 
problems of the next seven weeks. 

I found a letter written by Cunliffe, the 
motor cyclist, from Wankie at the end of 
October. "We were warned in Bulawayo 
that we would have to fight our way to the 

Victoria Falls," wrote Cunliffe. "No man 
can now persuade me that there is any 
worse country in Africa to travel over. For 
days we have not had any solid food. Our 
strength has failed. Sustained effort is 
now impossible." 

That was years before the all-weather 
motor road, of course, but travellers had a 
choice of three routes from Bulawayo to 
the Victoria Falls. There was the old 
wagon road cut by the pioneers; a later 
route used by the mail coach, drawn by 
trotting oxen; and the railway route, 
which was shorter than the others but 
deep in sand. 

Kelsey chose the pioneer route, an 
unhappy choice as it turned out. He 
engaged an elderly native named Hans as 
guide. On October 17 the expedition 
drove out of Bulawayo, more heavily 
loaded than usual. They knew there would 
be no help for them in the remote bush 
country, and so they had a miniature 

workshop and all the spares they could 

Often the pioneer road disappeared. There 
were stretches where it seemed to have 
been ploughed up, and then it would be 
hidden in the long grass. Clear tracks were 
sometimes misleading, and the motorists 
would find themselves at an isolated farm 
or railway siding. At every kraal Hans the 
guide made inquiries, for Kelsey was 
anxious to avoid sandy patches. 

Every night they lit fires against lions, 
leopards and elephant. Kelsey tried to cut 
across country on a compass course, but it 
did not pay; the trees they had to cut down 
were high, whereas along the pioneer road 
there were only young trees to remove. 

The Argyll car had a clearance of thirteen 
inches. This meant that the boulders 
which wagons had passed over easily had 
to be broken up before the car could 

I was fortunate in securing a copy of 
Cunliffe's diary for this part of the 
journey. It reveals the struggle vividly. 

"October 17. Redbank 20 miles. 

"October 18. Covered 43 miles. Badly 
stuck in Gwaai River. Fourteen oxen 
failed to move us. Got out finally with our 
own block and tackle. 

"October 19. Only 20 miles today. Tyre 
troubles. "October 20. Covered 24 miles. 

"October 21. Four miles total. Shocking 
sand. Tree stumps bad. Tore tap out of 
bottom of main petrol tank. Luckily the 
leak was soon noticed, as passengers were 

"October 22. Covered 20 miles, nearly all 
in bottom gear, over broken-up vleis to 
Chalmer' s farm. 

"October 23. Good deal of sand but also 
some hard ground. Covered 27 miles. Car 
delayed by sticking in a deep, narrow 

"October 24. Sand heavy. Twelve miles. 

"October 25. Heavy day's work. Sand and 
bush. Frequent halts to cut down trees. 
Twenty-two miles. 

"October 26. Hopelessly buried in a 
narrow drift. No natives to help. No oxen. 
A desperate case. Finally the five of us, 
one with a strained back, got her out with 
iron peg and block and tackle. Ten miles. 

"October 27. A bad start. At 4 a.m. as I 
lay in my blanket I heard a sound like a 
moth's wings by my left ear. Almost at 
once I discovered my mistake. A snake 
was moving across my chest close to my 
face. Not a move, not a sound until the 
danger had passed. 

"This day was even harder work, for we 
were in mountainous country. Had to stop 
continually either to cut down trees, break 
boulders with sledgehammer, or else fill 
in badly washed-out places. All this in the 
heat of the day. Again stuck in a drift. 
About 4 p.m., having got through the last 

big drift, we made sure that we should 
sleep the night on beds. Not so. Car 
proceeding along a native path bordered 
by tall grass when suddenly a wash-out 
was observed. Before the car could be 
stopped the front wheel had fallen in and 
the rear wheel only remained on solid 
ground by a few inches. It was two hours' 
work getting the car out. 

"Next day, when we were sure of a good 
feed in Wankie, we found the steering 
affected and had to use the blow-lamp to 
bend the rod. McAskill was suffering 
from influenza and jaundice, and Kelsey 
had a bad back, so Gilliland and I did our 
best. We did the job and were mortified to 
find that we could not start the engine 
again until we had pulled the magneto to 
pieces. Then we had scarcely enough 
strength to get the engine going. How 
thankful we were to see Wankie." 

They saw too much of Wankie, however, 
for they broke the back-axle there and it 
took four weeks to put the car in order. 

McAskill was in such poor health that 
Kelsey had to send him back to Cape 
Town by train. Fortunately there was a 
motor mechanic named Ewain Wilson at 
the Wankie coal mine, and he agreed to 
take McAskill' s place. Wilson brought a 
bull terrier with him as watch-dog. Kelsey 
also took on a head boy and eight carriers 
at Wankie, to lighten the load on the car 
over heavy stretches. 

It was the rainy season, the weather was 
threatening, and Kelsey had no tents with 
him; the tents had been railed to Broken 
Hill. There was no heavy rain, however, 
or the Kelsey expedition would have 
ended soon after leaving Bulawayo. 
(Eleven years later the Court-Treatt 
expedition entered this stretch in 
December. This was the only motor-car 
expedition ever to travel on its own 
wheels all the way from Cape Town to 
Cairo, but the section beyond Bulawayo 
almost broke their hearts. They spent four 
months digging their car out of the mud, 

four months covering four hundred miles.) 
Kelsey was lucky in that respect. 

Many natives along this route had never 
seen a motor-car before, and the arrival of 
the Argyll caused a commotion at every 
kraal. When they were hopelessly stuck in 
the sand Cunliffe would ride to the nearest 
farm and ask for a team of oxen. Kelsey 
often marched ahead with the carriers, 
shooting for the pot, feeding his natives 
on buck and mealie meal. The carriers 
jogged along with their loads at three 
miles an hour, barefooted as a rule, but 
using sandals over rough patches. It was 
more pleasant walking than riding in the 
car, for the mudguards had been taken off 
at Wankie and now the passengers were 
bombarded with clods of earth picked up 
by the front wheels. 

Kelsey employed a Bushman guide (two 
shillings a day) on the last stretch, and this 
man earned his pay. He pointed the 
direction unerringly across vast plains 
where the grass was often fifteen feet 

high. Not a path, not a wagon spoor broke 
the vista of grass. Yet they reached each 
shallow river at the drift, the exact place 
for the crossing. 

Cunliffe was "bushed" with his motor- 
bike on one occasion. When he failed to 
link up with the rest of the expedition that 
night, Kelsey and the others went out with 
lamps, rifles and the motor horn to make 
their presence known. The Bushman led 
them straight to the lost man. 

Sixty miles from the Victoria Falls the 
expedition ran out of petrol. Kelsey sent 
his carriers for the petrol, however, and 
they completed the double journey in six 
days. The stranded car came to life again 
and arrived in Livingstone six weeks after 
leaving Wankie. The distance is seventy- 
five miles. No wonder a local newspaper 
remarked: "The ultimate arrival of the 
expedition at its destination is 
problematical unless time is no object." 

Soon after Kelsey entered Livingstone the 
rains set in. However, Kelsey was assured 
that the road ahead was hard and good, so 
he paid off his carriers. Once again he 
took the precaution of lightening the car 
as much as possible, sending forward to 
Broken Hill the spare parts he had carried 
from Bulawayo, and also much personal 
kit. In fact, when the car left Livingstone 
each man had the clothes he wore, a spare 
shirt, spare breeches, a pair of socks, a 
few handkerchiefs and a sponge-bag. 
"Truly a modest outfit to face the African 
rainy season," remarked Gilliland. 

Livingstone to the Kafue river, two 
hundred and seventy miles. They had 
covered nearly one hundred miles when 
one driving shaft broke. This was the old 
trouble, of course, due to the absence of a 
differential gear. Kelsey, an intelligent 
and determined leader, found a railway 
siding with a telegraph office, and cabled 
the makers of the Argyll car in Glasgow 
for a differential, to be forwarded to 

Broken Hill with all speed. There was a 
spare driving shaft at Broken Hill, but 
Kelsey knew he would never reach Cairo 
without a differential. 

He pushed on, the engine driving one of 
the back wheels. They had to "corduroy" 
the track at times by cutting down 
saplings and placing them side by side to 
support the car over mud holes. Once they 
were stuck in a broad river with a rocky, 
uneven bed, and they emerged only after 
filling the uneven holes with stones. 
Nevertheless, they found pleasure in the 
country. Gilliland wrote: "This stage is by 
far the most fascinating of the whole tour. 
For days our route has lain through the 
limitless African jungle, with mile after 
mile of the same palms, the same thorn 
bushes. True, there were occasional 
stretches of grassland, but they were never 
extensive and you could always see they 
were hemmed in by the bush." 

At last they came to where the 
meadowland opened out, undulating 

country stretching to the horizon. The 
trees were noble, and at Kafue there was 
the mighty river. White farmers gave 
them butter and eggs, milk and bread, 
tomatoes, lemons and bananas. It was 
Christmas Eve, 1913, and it must have 
seemed a long four months since they had 
left Cape Town. 

Sundown on Christmas Eve. They pitched 
their camp on the river bank, but the 
Kafue people heard they were there and 
brought them in to dinner at the hotel. 
They slept on proper beds at the Farmers' 
Club that night. Kafue hospitality kept 
them there until December 31, when they 
took the battered car over the railway 
bridge and covered the thirty-six miles to 
Lusaka easily. 

Lusaka is now the capital of Northern 
Rhodesia. In 1913 it was merely a farming 
settlement, populated by hardy 
Afrikaners. The town consisted of the 
railway station, hotel, police camp, three 
stores, a butcher's shop and a bakery. The 

farmers were all in town that night, 
celebrating New Year's Eve at the hotel, 
sending off rockets and firing their rifles 
like true frontiersmen. 

Among the police at Lusaka' was a young 
trooper named Sillitoe. Long afterwards 
he wrote his reminiscences and mentioned 
the car which "stormed into our little 
town". Sillitoe said it was a splendid 
excuse for a celebration, and drank the 
King's health at midnight with the 
motorists. "It was as well for our good 
spirits that we had no premonition of the 
disastrous end," wrote Sillitoe. You will 
find his memories of the expedition in his 
book, "Cloak Without Dagger", by Sir 
Percy Sillitoe, former chief of the British 
Secret Service Organisation. 

Next day they pushed on to Broken Hill, 
eating tinned cod and plum-pudding. All 
of them understood that they would be 
leaving all hope of outside mechanical 
help behind, once they had left the railway 
line. But they had ample time to plan the 

next stage of the journey, for the car was 
delayed at Broken Hill from early in 
January 1914 until April 18 that year. 
Kelsey, you will remember, had cabled 
Glasgow for a new back-axle with 
differential. The outfit reached Broken 
Hill on March 22, and the new mechanic 
Wilson was able to fit the parts in place of 
the old shafts. 

"The car is now running excellently and 
steering better," Wilson reported to the 
factory. "We have dispensed with the 
large, heavy, acetylene headlamps and 
generator as running at night is 
impossible. Captain Kelsey has gone 
ahead with native carriers, taking petrol 
and stores. Mr. Gilliland is with me, but I 
am in charge of motoring arrangements 
until the car party catches up with Captain 
Kelsey. Roads are non-existent in this part 
of the country, and no car can carry a load 
heavier than five hundred pounds, 
including the driver. Rain has been falling 
continuously since we have been at 

Broken Hill, and travelling has been 
impossible. Now the rains have broken. 
The next stretch of more than five 
hundred miles consists of elephant grass 
twelve to twenty feet high, with rivers to 
be crossed on rafts of poles lashed to 
native dug-outs." 

Kelsey had gone forward along what is 
now known as the Great North Road, the 
bumpy road of white dust that runs from 
Broken Hill to Abercorn at the southern 
end of Lake Tanganyika. In those days 
there was only a native path, traversed by 
wagons and bicycles. Kelsey rode a 
bicycle. Scott-Brown had marched off on 
foot in a north-easterly direction to film 
big-game, and Kelsey expected to meet 
him. Cunliffe, the motor-cyclist, does not 
appear in the final records of the 
expedition. Evidently he packed up and 
returned home during the long delay at 
Broken Hill. 

Living was cheap in the wilds before 
World War I. The records show that 

Kelsey was paying his carriers three 
shillings a month. Natives in the villages 
of thatched huts along the trail would give 
you two eggs in exchange for a needle, or 
a fowl for two pence. 

Kelsey pitched a camp eight miles from 
Chitambo mission, close to the spot where 
David Livingstone died. On Easter 
Sunday (April 12) a leopard entered his 
camp. Here is Kelsey 's own description of 
the encounter, written from the Chitambo 
mission a few days later to Mr. W. G. 
Rushbrook, headmaster of Kelsey 's old 
school, St. Olave's, Southwark: "There 
are few people I can write to as I am 
gradually leaving my senses. Last Sunday, 
Easter Sunday, I wounded a leopard eight 
miles out of here in my camp. I followed 
it up and we met again. My magazine 
jammed and the leopard did good damage 
to my rifle. Then we had a hand to hand 
fight and I could only keep him on the 
ground by thrusting my hand in its mouth 
while with my right hand I readjusted the 

jammed magazine and shot him. If the 
mission had not been there I should never 
have written any letter and even now there 
is a possibility of poisoning. So although I 
always mean to get through it is a small 
chance. I left school in 1897. I have to 
stop every now and then as I go off in a 

Wilson and Gilliland were chugging 
through the bush in the Argyll, seventy 
miles from Chitambo, when a messenger 
suddenly appeared in their path holding 
up an envelope in a forked stick. There 
were two messages, one from Kelsey, the 
other from the Rev. Malcolm Moffat, the 
missionary, begging them to drive the car 
to the mission as fast as possible. 

The car was moving forward almost at 
walking pace, accompanied by a number 
of natives who pushed it through difficult 
patches. It was really quicker to walk, and 
Gilliland marched on ahead with a few 
carriers to reach Kelsey' s bedside. He 
found Kelsey receiving attention from 

Mrs. Moffat, a trained nurse. Kelsey could 
not move, however, and there was no 
doctor. The only doctor in the district was 
too ill to attend to patients. 

It was decided that Kelsey would have to 
be carried by relays of natives on a 
machila, a litter with a canopy. So on May 
16 they started on a journey of more than 
one hundred and fifty miles to Kashitu, 
the nearest railway station. From there 
they hoped to take Kelsey by train to the 
Broken Hill hospital. 

They met the car on the road, but decided 
that Kelsey would be more comfortable 
on the litter. However, the jolting caused 
great pain, and Nelsey grew weaker and 
weaker. Kelsey 's left knee and thigh were 
hideously lacerated. One thumb was dis- 
located, but the hand had been mauled so 
severely that the dislocation could not be 

There was a doctor at Chiwefwe some 
miles ahead, a Dr. Stohr who had become 

a cattle farmer. So the car was sent ahead 
of the slow column to warn the doctor that 
a patient would be arriving in a desperate 
state. Kelsey 's wounds had become 
septic, and surgery was essential. 

Dr. Stohr gave the anaesthetic himself and 
was incising the terrible wounds when 
Kelsey died. He was buried next day 
(May 27) at a spot one hundred and ten 
miles east of Kashitu, three-quarters of a 
mile off the road. 

"Such is the tragic end of the Cape to 
Cairo expedition," Gilliland wrote. "It 
was all so unnecessary. Kelsey wounded 
the leopard, which retreated into the long 
grass. The boys warned Kelsey not to go 
after him. Kelsey misunderstood them and 
thought they meant the leopard was dead. 
While the leopard was mauling Kelsey an 
unarmed boy seized the leopard by the 
hind-legs and dragged it off him. Kelsey 
reloaded and killed the leopard. The boy 
was uninjured." 

Gilliland added that he still thought it 
would be possible to reach Cairo in the 
Argyll car. The engine had never given 
any trouble. However the car was 
abandoned in the bush at Kashitu, a 
rusting monument to a forgotten but 
mighty effort. Kelsey had led his party for 
more than two thousand miles from Cape 
Town, over the hard karoo, through 
tropical bush and jungle. He deserves to 
rank with the later African pioneers, and I 
think Gilliland was right when he said that 
the Argyll was capable of reaching Cairo. 

Gilliland returned to Cape Town by train, 
but Scott-Brown went on alone, up the 
trail Kelsey would have followed had he 
lived. For a time Scott-Brown stayed on a 
farm owned by Mr. G. H. Morton near 
Abercorn. "With his primitive and 
cumbersome apparatus he took moving 
pictures of dangerous game of many 
species," Mr. Morton told me. "Alas! He 
went on to German East Africa and fell 
into the hands of the enemy when war 

broke out in August 1914. I learned that 
he was interned, but never heard of him 
again after the war. Presumably his films 
of the Kelsey expedition and the big game 
were lost." 

Morton had one brighter memory of the 
expedition. A number of British food 
manufacturers had supplied Kelsey with 
samples of their wares for publicity 
purposes. When the party broke up, Scott- 
Brown took cases of delicacies with him, 
rare foods such as Morton had never seen 
before in the bush. "The turtle soup was 
good, but the canned mutton was even 
better," he recalled. 

As I said in the beginning, Kelsey had a 
secret. His struggle was not only against 
Africa. He set out full of the spirit of 
adventure, but without enough money. 
There came a time when Kelsey could no 
longer appeal to his father. It was doubtful 
whether the expedition would have got 
beyond Kimberley if De Beers had not 
given him one hundred pounds to help 

him on his way. Kelsey wrote to a number 
of leading British manufacturers, offering 
to give publicity to their goods, and some 
of them responded. He was almost 
penniless in Wankie, but the generous 
coal-miners raised a subscription which 
gave new life to the expedition. Gilliland, 
Scott-Brown and Cunliffe paid their own 

Kelsey always had the nagging worry of 
the driver's wages, the native carriers and 
the upkeep of the car on his mind. Money 
troubles and long delays caused a great 
deal of quarrelling, too, for expeditions 
are seldom as harmonious as they may 
appear on the surface. Kelsey was a brave 
and resolute man, and his companions lost 
a fine leader when he went to his lonely 
grave in the Northern Rhodesian bush. 

Chapter 7 

Penniless Wanderers 

FIFTEEN YEARS before Genevieve, the 
Argyll car, plunged into the jungle, a 
young man named Ewart Grogan set out 
from Cape Town for Cairo. He used every 
form of transport known in Africa last 
century, mainly his own feet. On the lakes 
he found canoes and dhows. He rode 
horses and mules, and sometimes he used 

ox-wagons. In the Nile swamps he 
crawled on his stomach. 

Grogan reached Cairo two and a half 
years after leaving Cape Town. He was 
the first of the Cape to Cairo travellers. "I 
must say I envy you for you have done 
that which has been for centuries the 
ambition of every explorer," Cecil John 
Rhodes wrote to him. 

Grogan had money, but he needed 
courage, too, in those days when Darkest 
Africa was still a reality. After him have 
come all sorts of people with and without 
money, travelling hard and travelling soft. 
The penniless wanderers have always 
appealed to me, and in a Cape Town 
newspaper office I was bound to meet 
many of them. I listened to their stories, 
and I tried to learn their secrets. 

My typical penniless wanderer has a 
faraway look in his eyes, his clothes are 
light and strong and he wears massive 
boots. Always he is ready, like a conjurer, 

to produce a fat and fascinating book 
containing hundreds of signatures and 
rubber-stamps, a book revealing place- 
names such as Wadi Haifa and Abercorn. 
Even without the fifty pound pack on his 
back, you have no difficulty in 
recognizing him. He is the man who has 
walked through Africa. 

Year after year these determined travellers 
arrive in Cape Town. They are not always 
young, and nowadays many of them will 
admit that they prefer riding to walking. 
Some have bicycles, or motor bicycles, 
scooters or even cars. They are seeing 
Africa, for next to nothing. 

The familiar tourist routes from Cairo to 
Cape Town mean nothing to these 
penniless wanderers. They have no 
elaborate schedules, no baggage worth 
mentioning, certainly no books of 
travellers' cheques. But there is a healthy, 
confident look about them. They have 
been bold enough to tackle difficult tasks 
without fearing hunger or friendless 

poverty in distant lands. One man in a 
thousand, perhaps, will give up security to 
embark on such an enterprise. I have met 
the courageous spirits who have done it. 

One was a young Canadian who had 
covered eight thousand miles in Africa in 
five months at negligible cost. He did not 
pretend to have walked. "It is impossible 
to walk from Cairo to Cape Town," he 
declared. "Anyone who tried would die in 
the desert." He told me some of the 
secrets of travelling on next-to-nothing. 
"Never admit you can't do a job," he said. 
"I accept every piece of work offered. If I 
fail - well, I get fired and move on. But 
more often I find the job is not so hard 
after all." 

This man made the long journey by river 
steamer down the Nile. A deck passage 
cost him one-fourteenth of the price of a 
first-class ticket. In native territories he 
found that ample food could be purchased 
for a few pence a day. On his back he 
carried a satchel with his eiderdown 

sleeping-bag, change of clothing and 
medical kit. "Every white man is regarded 
as a doctor by the natives in some parts of 
Africa," he said. "I was entertained 
royally by many a village headman after I 
had dispensed a few simple remedies." 

Missionaries were hospitable, too. He 
worked for his keep at a number of 
stations, and then moved on as a 
passenger in the mission motor-lorry. 
Indian traders helped to transport him 
from place to place. "Give me the lonely 
roads where only one car passes every day 
- then you are sure of a lift," he said. "On 
the busy routes, every car ignores the 

A packet of salt is the best form of 
currency in the Congo villages. He would 
give the eager headman a little salt and 
receive chickens and fruit in exchange. 
When I met him he had travelled twenty- 
three thousand miles since leaving 
Canada. Having seen all Europe, Asia 
Minor and Africa, he was bound for India. 

There was no doubt in his mind that he 
would complete his journey round the 

I knew an ingenious American, neither 
penniless nor rich, who saw Africa free as 
a result of a stroke of luck. He was on 
board a Congo river steamer at a time 
when navigation was liable to be delayed 
by the papyrus grass. Huge islands of this 
grass blocked the narrow waterway and 
made progress impossible. The passengers 
were informed that the ship could not 
proceed for a fortnight. Someone 
suggested elephant hunting as a means of 
passing the time. My friend joined the 
hunting party, brought down two 
elephants, and sold the tusks to a Greek 
trader for a sum that paid all his expenses 
through the continent. "Though I don't 
mind admitting that it took fifteen shots to 
drop the first elephant," he told me. 

A honeymoon couple motored through 
Africa between the wars at a total cost of 
thirty shillings a week. They carried 

nothing more deadly than an old kitchen 
knife. The tiny car became a double bed at 
night, and nothing ever attacked them. 
The young husband lectured at dozens of 
schools throughout the journey to cover 

A party of German minstrels spent more 
than two years on the road in Africa, 
lecturing, playing and singing for their 
meals and petrol. Their motor-truck 
covered fifty thousand miles and took 
them from Cape Town as far north as the 
Sudan, zig-zagging across Africa four 

Firearms mean trouble at every frontier, 
so the tropical tramps seldom carry even 
an automatic pistol. Many of them 
emphasise the fact that they have had no 
dangerous encounters with wild animals. 
But there have been tragedies. Darling, a 
traveller on foot, was mauled by a leopard 
in Portuguese East Africa and one of his 
companions was killed. James Scott, a 
roving Scot who finished his walk from 

London to Cape Town in 1937, told me 
that he had been "treed" by lions twice, 
but never touched. He suffered great pain 
from a scorpion bite, however, and he was 
worried by rats while he slept. 

Scott was a genuine walker, striding along 
with the fifty-pound pack that all the 
experienced men carry, often living on 
dates and water. At other times he found 
that tea, sugar, and beef suet were the best 
foods. His was a remarkable achievement 
for a man of fifty. He wore out twenty- 
two pairs of boots during the journey of 
fifteen thousand miles. In Nairobi he met 
Grogan and compared notes. I asked him 
whether he ever felt lonely during the 
long march. "Lonely? Only in 
civilisation," Scott replied. "There's too 
much to see in the desert and the jungle to 
be lonely." 

The cyclists, of course, are able to cover 
the ground at a much greater pace, and 
carry more gear. Douglas Carr, a 
Canadian, rode down Africa in seven 

months, sometimes pedalling seventy 
miles a day. 

The fat books I have mentioned as part of 
every penniless traveller's kit are carried 
to show that the owner is indeed a 
member of a race apart and no ordinary 
hobo. These books, signed and stamped 
by mayors, postmasters and police, prove 
that the traveller is following a definite 
route. If he is walking round the world to 
win an enormous wager, here is the 
evidence. The book, I imagine, leads to 
many a welcome offer of hospitality, a 
meal and a bed for a tale of adventure, fair 
exchange indeed. 

A Scottish traveller, of course, will seek 
brother Scots wherever he goes; the 
Germans will be hailed by fellow- 
countrymen; Greek wanderer will find 
Greek trader, even in the Congo forests. 
(A one-legged Greek limped right through 
Africa on a crutch some time ago.) Failing 
private accommodation, there is usually a 
spare bed in the police station for a decent 

traveller on foot. But in tropical Africa 
every white man passing through an 
outpost is treated as a guest. There is 
seldom any danger of going hungry and 
without shelter. The prospect of a new 
face at the table is welcomed. 

Many of these travellers carry postcard- 
portraits of themselves, which they sell. 
They all tell you they are collecting 
material for books, but few seem to 
achieve publication. It must be heart- 
breaking for these amateur writers to 
discover that there is no market for the 
stories of the hardships that were so real 
to them. Or perhaps they never write their 
books, after all. Perhaps they are still 
wandering in distant countries, heading 
for the horizon on journeys that never end. 
I have still to meet one such traveller who 
is ready to declare that the long tramp has 
ended. He is always moving on to a new 

Some men make religious pilgrimages 
through Africa. "I come with a message 

from your best and oldest friend," says 
this traveller as the door opens. He then 
sells an illustrated edition of the Bible and 
passes on. I remember one expedition 
which travelled in a caravan painted to 
resemble an armoured car. The members 
called themselves an "international peace 
mission". They charged a small fee for 
inspection of the caravan, sold pamphlets, 
and saw a fair stretch of Africa at the 
expense of the inhabitants. 

One lucky man was engaged in Cape 
Town by a wealthy American who wanted 
to drive to Nairobi. On arrival there the 
American presented the car to the driver 
and paid his expenses back to Cape Town. 
Such chances of seeing Africa for nothing 
seldom occur. 

There was a period after World War II 
when even the boldest wanderer refrained 
from setting out into Africa with empty 
pockets. But it started again, and the post- 
war travellers I encountered were no less 
enterprising than the old hands I had 

known. A man who impressed me was a 
twenty -eight-year-old Scot, R. Macduff 
Urquhart, B.A., LL.B., graduate of Oxford 
and Edinburgh Universities, who had been 
a major in the Seaforths during the war. 
Urquhart assured me that he was not 
merely fond of travel; he had an 
unquenchable thirst for it. He had crossed 
Canada wearing a kilt from the Atlantic to 
the Pacific on five pounds. (Canadian 
Scots looked after him.) He knew the Far 
East and Western Europe. And in 1951, 
when the winds of Edinburgh grew cold, 
he left home with a rucksack, one blanket, 
a little money, and the addresses of three 
friends in Africa. 

Urquhart had landed at Casablanca and 
then travelled fourth class by sea to 
French West Africa. "Pretty rough - 
usually reserved for native troops," he 
recalled. "But I spread my blanket on 
deck, slept happily under the stars, and 
enjoyed a free bottle of wine at every 
meal. The bread was good, too, and 

sometimes when I went to the galley for 
my rations the chef gave me a small 
patisserie he had made for the first-class 

At times Urquhart had to pay his way by 
'bus and river steamer. He hitch-hiked 
through the Congo forests successfully 
and reached Nairobi. There one of his 
friends persuaded him to become a 
schoolmaster. He had never given a lesson 
in his life, but the regular master was ill 
and so he accepted the post for six weeks. 
"It was a desperate struggle, but it filled 
my purse," Urquhart declared. 

This resourceful traveller sailed to 
Zanzibar by dhow, spent eighteen pounds 
on a flight to Nyasaland, and thumbed his 
way onwards to Cape Town. He had seen 
Africa almost from end to end at a 
fraction of the price most tourists pay. 
"On the journey like mine you must be 
prepared to go anywhere, sleep in any 
place and eat practically anything," 
summed up Urquhart. 

Such is the spirit that conquers distance in 
Africa, and I admire the determination of 
this restless legion. They add nothing to 
maps or science; but they have no regrets 
for the way they have chosen, and they do 
bring the breath of adventure to many a 
door in the far places. 

Natives are naturally the greatest of all 
Africa's penniless wanderers. In the 
"Copper Belt" of Northern Rhodesia I met 
a Nigerian native trader who had walked 
there from the walled city of Kano, a 
distance of more than two thousand miles, 
with his merchandise. He had come by 
those narrow trails which form a network 
over Africa; footpaths leading from 
village to village, stamped out by bare feet 
many centuries ago and followed ever 
since. You can cross the continent from 
Loanda to Dar-es-Salaam keeping always 
to these tracks, sure that you are taking 
the easiest possible route. But there is no 
room for a motor-car on these unmapped 
tracks of Africa. 

The main routes of today, where railways 
stretch up to the highlands from the sea, 
are the slave and ivory caravan roads of 
yesterday. Such a one is the Arab highway 
leading north-west from Mombasa to the 
Congo and beyond. The present Lobito 
Bay railway tracks are laid over the bones 
of thousands of slaves. And farther north, 
still bearing an old-fashioned cavalcade, is 
the Lake Chad trail that begins on the 
West Coast and ends on the shores of the 
Red Sea. 

On the narrow paths bicycles are seen, 
with here and there a swaying camel. But 
in the land of the tsetse fly, where pack 
animals cannot live, the foot safari 
remains the greatest cavalcade of all and 
the native porter with his head load is still 
the most reliable carrier. 

Such journeys may be made in greater 
luxury than the newcomer to Africa might 
imagine. You can have drinks off the ice, 
hot baths, a seven-course dinner and a 
comfortable bed under a mosquito net. 

The equipment is split up into regulation 
fifty lb. head loads, and it is merely a 
matter of taking a sufficient number of 
porters. Years ago the load was seventy- 
five lbs., and the porter cheerfully carried 
the additional weight of a rifle and 
ammunition, presents for his wife, food 
and water-bottle, brass wire and beads for 
use as money. The kilangozi (head porter) 
set an example by choosing the largest 
tusk, and the whole safari swung down the 
trail to the songs he started. 


Are we downhearted? No. That is about 
the best translation. 

The Swahili porter has helped to make 
history in Africa, and no great enterprise 
in the tropics has been completed without 
his aid. He carried the first steamers in 
sections to the Great Lakes, and guided all 
the explorers to the unknown hinterland. 

On the pay-sheets, porters appear under 
such names as Kiboko (hippo), Risasi 
(cartridge) or Piga Mzinga (fire the 
cannon), simply as a matter of 
convenience. They are the strong men of 
Africa. It is by no means rare to see the 
head porter dance along for a mile at the 
end of the day to encourage his tired 
companions. Shoulder loads are moved in 
unison at the end of a song, a juggling 
feat; all along the line heads jerk aside, 
the load shifts over with a thump. 

For four centuries the machila has been 
the white man's mode of travel along 
certain bush paths. Of course there are 
many white travellers and hunters who 
would scorn to use this queer contraption; 
they prefer to stride ahead of the safari 
with the gun-bearer close at hand. But 
when there are women in the party, or 
when a man falls ill, the machila will be 
there. In its simplest form, the machila is 
a canvas hammock slung on a bamboo 
pole and carried in turns by a team of ten 

or a dozen men. The most muscular 
fellows are chosen. They move out of step 
(or the motion would be intolerable) at a 
leisurely jog-trot. At the best of times it is 
a nerve-racking method of transport, often 
causing nausea. 

Many attempts have been made to 
improve the machila, and there is now a 
type with one wheel, which reduces the 
discomfort. I have seen ornate machilas 
with leopard skin awnings, polished, 
brass-studded poles, and teams in 
uniform. But I have never seen one that 
tempted me. Even in the sweltering 
tropics it is better to walk. 

The planning of a safari, of course, calls 
for experience. One young man left the 
purchase of food to his wife. Her mind 
was staggered by the quantities required 
for a trek of several months, so she made 
certain economies. They were almost 
starving when at last they reached a 
trader' s store. 

Pilfering is a prospect that cannot be 
ignored. One traveller, nearly a thousand 
miles from the coast and a long way from 
any source of supply, opened the box 
supposed to contain whisky. There were 
stones inside, carefully chosen to make up 
the correct weight. The remarks of 
another man who found curry powder in 
tins which should have held sugar are also 

Nevertheless, the safari is the finest way 
of all for those who seek contact with Old 
Africa. And no aero engine ever sang with 
such romantic rhythm as a winding, ebony 
cavalcade of porters tramping out into 
"the blue". 

Chapter 8 
No Greater Disaster 

Ours is the meekness that endures; Our 
patience, like a steadfast tree, Stands in 
the torrent-pain that pours And sweeps all 
else to some dark sea. The patient bovine 
race unblest 

Is earth 's sad, dumb, pathetic guest. 

- W. C. Scully. "The Prayer of the 
Cattle Smitten with Rinderpest." 

No GREATER disaster than the rinderpest 
ever smote Africa's animals. Even in 
native legend this plague stands alone. It 

crept down the continent like an evil 
shadow over the land, killing the game 
and cattle in its path by the million. 

Among my earliest memories is a scene 
on the veld outside Kimberley, where I 
was born. Someone traced for me the 
tragedy of the oxen, still visible in the 
white bones of a whole team that must 
have been hauling a wagon; a team that 
lay down together and died, their bones 
picked clean by the vultures. 

Long afterwards I was on a farm in the 
Prieska district, and I praised the fencing. 
The farmer smiled. "That was part of the 
rinderpest fence," he recalled. "The 
government put up a barbed wire fence - 
rushed it up I should say - for a thousand 
miles along the border of the colony south 
of the Orange River to keep the rinderpest 
out. It must have cost them a hundred 
pounds a mile. Daar waai geen wind nie 
ofdit is iemand van nut. " 

The ill wind of rinderpest, however, did 
not enrich many people. If you made a list 
of the most serious causes of suffering in 
South Africa, the wars would come first, 
then the human plagues, with the 
rinderpest third. I have heard it argued 
that we are still feeling the sinister 
influence of the rinderpest because many 
white families have never recovered from 
the poverty which the rinderpest created. 
People suited to life on the land were 
forced into the towns; always an 
undesirable movement. And it is possible 
that South Africa would have more and 
better and cheaper meat today if the 
cattle-farmers had not lost their stock on a 
colossal scale sixty years ago. Rinderpest 
must have cost South Africa millions of 
pounds, the good old golden pounds. 

What was this nightmare? Rinderpest is a 
German word meaning "cattle plague"; 
and the cattle-owning Huns brought the 
disease with them from the depths of Asia 
when they reached the present Germany 

during the Dark Ages. Rinderpest is a 
violent eruptive fever, highly contagious 
and fatal. Essentially a cattle disease, it 
also affects the ruminants among the 
game animals; and domestic animals such 
as sheep, goats and pigs may fall under 
the curse. 

Rinderpest wiped out much of the German 
cattle a thousand years ago. It swept 
England in the early eighteenth century, 
and appeared in Africa for the first time 
over a hundred years ago. In the eighteen- 
nineties rinderpest started its deadly 
journey southwards. By that time millions 
of head of cattle had perished in Europe. 

Egypt endured and survived the 
rinderpest, like all the other plagues. The 
infection which reached South Africa 
appears to have been brought to 
Massowah by Italian troops, and the Arab 
caravans spread it down the Nile. 

Lord Lugard, the great African 
administrator, was a young army captain 

in the Masai country when the rinderpest 
arrived in 1890, and he declared: "Never 
before in the memory of man or the voice 
of tradition have cattle died in such vast 
numbers. Never before have the wild 
game suffered so. Nearly all the buffalo 
and eland are gone. The giraffe has 
suffered, also many of the small animals, 
bush buck and reed buck. The pig (wart- 
hog) seem nearly all to have died." 

Here indeed was a killer more deadly than 
the white hunter with his rifle. Up to the 
time of the rinderpest the plains of East 
Africa were alive and black with the 
teeming herds of game. After the 
rinderpest the picture changed. There are 
still magnificent spectacles here and there, 
but the game you watch today is but a 
fraction of the life of the old African 

Elephants, hippo and rhino escaped 
completely. So did the lions and other 
meat-eaters. But the havoc among the 
ruminants was enormous, with the great 

buffalo in the lead. The disease 
transformed the buffalo from peace-loving 
creatures into raging monsters, as the 
terrified natives found to their cost. 
Rinderpest still breaks out at intervals in 
Tanganyika, and many unprovoked 
attacks by buffalo have been recorded. A 
buffalo infected with rinderpest will 
charge a motor-lorry or a railway train. 

All the horned buck went down before the 
rinderpest; eland and kudu, bush buck and 
reed buck and duiker. For some reason 
which seemed to be connected with the 
digestive system, the sable and roan 
antelope, wildebeest and impala, were not 
among the heaviest casualties. Horses 
were immune, and it was hoped that the 
zebras would escape. This was falsified 
when Sir Alfred Sharpe found hundreds of 
dead zebra near Lake Tanganyika. 

Veterinarians were surprised to find such 
large numbers of wart-hogs and bush pigs 
among the victims. No doubt they fed on 
the abundant carrion and paid the price. 

Wart-hogs breed like rats, however, and 
they soon recovered. The mortality among 
the giant hogs of the East African 
mountain forests was more regrettable. 
These largest members of the pig tribe are 
rare (or at any rate hard to find) and the 
first living specimens only reached 
London twenty years ago. 

One possible result of the rinderpest may 
have been the extinction of that famous 
mystery animal, the so-called "Nandi 
bear". This brute has become as 
controversial as the Abominable 
Snowman. Hunters and naturalists who 
know East Africa intimately accept the 
native legend of a dark brown, shambling 
creature which hides in the trees and 
scalps passers-by. Stories of the "Nandi 
bear" are widespread and persistent; but 
as no specimen has been secured it is 
thought that the whole species has 

Slowly the rinderpest moved towards the 
south, with many freakish twists and 

turns. Panic-stricken buffalo carried it in 
some directions at the pace of their 
stampedes. They do so still in the 
smouldering reservoir of infection in East 
Africa. During the first attack, back in the 
eighteen-nineties, the left side of Lake 
Nyasa was devastated while all the 
country between the eastern side and the 
sea remained unscathed. Rinderpest was 
often checked and diverted by mountains. 
Lucky pockets of land were left 
untouched while in other areas the 
stunned natives lost nine out of every ten 
head of cattle. Rinderpest never entered 
the Barotse valley, yet the ruthless 
scourge reached out across Northern 
Rhodesia and withered the herds and the 
game of Angola. 

Optimists in newly-settled Rhodesia 
thought the Zambesi would act as a 
barrier, but the river might never have 
been there. South of the river, early in 
1896, the rinderpest travelled at the exact 
pace of the ox-wagons. The affected 

districts never looked the same again, for 
the buffalo, the eland and the kudu had 
been thinned out so that the bush seemed 

Only when the disease reached Bulawayo 
was it diagnosed by the veterinarian Gray 
as rinderpest. The natural instinct of every 
transport driver was to hurry away from 
the menace; but oxen cannot be hurried, 
and the refugees only spread the disease. 
In a matter of days the rinderpest was in 
Palapye. Mafeking, five hundred miles 
south of Bulawayo, was smitten early in 
April. Rinderpest leapt the Limpopo as 
easily as the Zambesi, and then the 
Transvaal knew the horror of it. 

My good friend Mr. Albert Jackson of 
Port Elizabeth was trekking down from 
the Kalahari by wagon to the North West 
Cape in 1 896 when he was stopped by the 
authorities at Upington. Owing to the 
rinderpest, no cattle were allowed to cross 
the Orange River. "The whole river was 
guarded by Cape police patrols, and I 

remember them dipping my boots in 
disinfectant," Mr. Jackson recalled. 

Mr. Jackson described the border fence 
which I mentioned earlier. He was 
responsible for putting up forty miles of 
this fence, with a heavy fine if he fell 
behind time. "I finished my section in a 
month, but only by giving forty farmers 
one mile each," Mr. Jackson explained. 
"The government supplied the wire, and 
we were allowed to cut down trees along 
the river for poles. My particular area was 
so stony that I had to use fifty cases of 
dynamite for blasting the holes. 
Unfortunately the fence was a sheer waste 
of money. Hawks and other birds of prey 
feasted on the thousands of rinderpest 
victims and carried the disease into the 
Cape Colony." 

I think the saddest tale of the rinderpest I 
ever heard was of a young farmer who 
became a transport driver on the route 
from Durban to the Transvaal. Before his 
first trip he married a Durban girl, and 

they set out together in high spirits. All 
his oxen died of rinderpest on a lonely 
stretch. The husband tried to buy a team 
in the neighbourhood, but failed. He then 
decided to ride on horseback to his 
father's farm to borrow oxen. It was an 
awkward predicament, for his wife was a 
town-bred girl, and he disliked the idea of 
leaving her alone. However, there was 
nothing else to be done, and he rode away. 

An hour later the husband returned. He 
had dismounted to drink at a stream, and a 
snake had bitten him. There was no hope. 
In his distress he had made for the wagon, 
and he died in his wife's arms. She was 
found soon afterwards with her dead 
husband's head in her lap, dazed by the 
tragedy. The men who stopped at the 
wagon buried the husband and took the 
widow back to Durban. 

All along the transport routes of Southern 
Africa lay the abandoned wagons. A man 
who travelled from Mafeking to 
Bulawayo in 1896 told me that he saw 

wagons with loads untouched, others 
pilfered by natives. It was a scene of 
confusion. At every trading station the 
stores had piled up, surrounded by 
wagons that had reached those points and 
could go no farther. Not only was there 
the rinderpest as a cause of deep anxiety, 
but the Matabele were expected to rise at 
any moment. That was the situation which 
Baden- Powell had to deal with in the 
Matabele campaign. 

Mafeking was crowded with troops, but 
the rinderpest had stopped all operations. 
The revolt was caused by the order that 
native cattle were to be killed to prevent 
the disease spreading. Natives who had 
not been aggressive were now inclined to 
join the rebels. Thanks to the rinderpest, it 
took an army of five thousand white men 
eight months to subdue the Matabele. 

By now the fear of rinderpest had gripped 
the whole of Southern Africa, the 
Portuguese in the east and west, the 
Germans in Damaraland. No territory 

escaped. Dead cattle lay reeking from sea 
to sea. 

Veterinary experts and officials from the 
British colonies and the republics met at 
Vryburg in April 1896 to work out a 
policy which might save something from 
the wreck of South Africa's cattle 
industry. Among those who attended the 
conference was a young and unknown 
Swiss veterinarian named Theiler, later 
Sir Arnold Theiler. At the end of his 
brilliant career, this scientist who founded 
Onderstepoort declared that the rinderpest 
gave him more worry than any other 
problem he had encountered in his 
profession. In the Transvaal there were 
not enough police and hardly any 
scientists. Theiler did not make his name 
at this period. He was inexperienced, his 
salary was £500 a year, and when he went 
to Bulawayo and Vryburg he was 
handicapped by a poor knowledge of 
English. But the rinderpest taught Theiler 
how to wage a great campaign. For twenty 

months he drafted regulations, carried out 
research, organised meetings, wrote 
reports. Always he had President Kruger 
behind him. The drastic measures 
included a complete ban on the entry of 
cattle into the Transvaal from infected 
areas, and all transport by oxen had to be 

Transvaal farmers had to keep their cattle 
at least three miles from the border. All 
stock suspected of rinderpest contagion 
had to be impounded, and much of it was 
destroyed. Fodder which might have 
conveyed rinderpest was buried or burnt. 
Dogs and pigs were destroyed wherever 
the rinderpest appeared. Meat wagons had 
to be drawn by horses or mules. Milk 
vanished from the shops. Game laws 
protecting buffalo, eland, giraffe, 
wildebeest, kudu and many other buck 
were suspended, and there was hunting on 
a great and tragic scale. After the 
shooting, and the rinderpest, the wild life 
of the Transvaal became a thing of the 

past. Only in the game reserve which 
President Kruger established in the Sabi 
did the animals slowly recover from the 
slaughter and the sickness of the 

At intervals President Kruger proclaimed 
a Day of Prayer. Despairing farmers 
dosed their cattle with raw linseed oil, and 
washed out the mouths of their animals 
with paraffin oil and salt. Tar was applied 
round the nostrils in the hope that it would 
act as an antiseptic. Yet the plague spread 
like a raging fire. A great celebration had 
been planned at Paardekraal on Dingaan's 
Day in 1896, and the Volksraad had voted 
£33,000 for the occasion. It was 

So great was the ruin that hundreds of 
farmers were unable to remain on the 
land. They converged on Johannesburg 
with their families seeking work. 
President Kruger laid out a new suburb 
for these "displaced persons", first known 
as Burgersdorp, now Vrededorp. 

Irrigation settlements and relief works had 
to be started to prevent starvation. 

So many animals were destroyed that 
burial became a problem, and on many 
farms there was a labour shortage because 
the natives were digging graves. 
Wherever possible the doomed cattle were 
driven into dongas and shot; it was easier 
to fill in than to dig. But the work had to 
be done thoroughly or the jackals and 
other vermin pulled out the carcasses. 
Scully the poet and author, who was 
magistrate at Nqamakwe near Butterworth 
at the time, reported that over two-thirds 
of his district the dead cattle lay thick, and 
it was difficult to avoid the sight or the 
stench. Queen Victoria's jubilee could not 
be celebrated owing to the emergency. 
The natives were inclined to blame the 
government for their sufferings, and the 
territories from the Kei to Natal might 
easily have been plunged into war. It was 
rumoured among the natives that the 
government had brought this disease to 

ruin them so that they would be forced to 
work in the gold mines. Scully worked so 
hard that his health was wrecked for a 
time, and at the end of the rinderpest 
campaign he had to go overseas to seek a 
cure for his insomnia. Many other 
conscientious officials drove themselves 
to breaking point. 

The various governments compensated 
farmers when their cattle were shot to 
prevent the rinderpest spreading. 
Travellers coming south were examined at 
Norvalspont, and pet dogs were taken 
from them and shot. The newspapers 
recorded the trick played by a woman 
who asked the officials to allow her to 
wrap her dog in a cloak so that she could 
not see the killing. The officials agreed, 
and the woman took her dog into a 
waiting-room to say farewell. She 
emerged weeping with a bundle, the shots 
were fired and the bundle was buried. But 
when her train reached Cape Town she 
had recovered completely, for she had 

hidden the dog successfully and the 
bundle was a fake. 

It was the Cape Government that urged 
Dr. Robert Koch, the greatest 
bacteriologist of his day, to come to South 
Africa and investigate the rinderpest. 
Koch was asked to name his own terms. 
Shortly before the end of 1896 Koch was 
at work in the burning summer heat of 
Kimberley, cutting up carcasses in one of 
the compounds. He tested all the local 
remedies, inoculated hundreds of animals, 
and finally confirmed something that 
many cattle farmers had already found out 
for themselves. "I consider it absolutely 
proved that by the injection of gall taken 
from rinderpest-infected animals, a sound 
animal may be protected against the 
disease, and that this discovery is also 
capable of practical application," Koch 

Before the end of 1898 two million head 
of cattle had been inoculated and the 
disease was under control. The last cases 

in the Cape were reported in 1903. 
Rinderpest has never reappeared, though 
as I have said, the disease still smoulders 
in tropical East Africa. All attempts to 
eliminate this reservoir have failed. 
However, Koch's method has been 
replaced by less dangerous and more 
effective injections of serum. All the 
territories menaced by rinderpest work in 
close cooperation. But even now the 
veterinary experts do not rule out the 
possibility of a major catastrophe in the 
Rhodesia' s and the Union if the rinderpest 
breaks the cordon and moves south. 

Today the railway line between Dar-es- 
Salaam and Lake Tanganyika is regarded 
as the southern limit beyond which the 
disease must be tackled vigorously 
wherever it appears. There has been no 
serious threat since 1939, when the 
rinderpest was driven back for three 
hundred miles north of the railway. A belt 
of immunized cattle is also maintained 
across Tanganyika. Game fences and 

trenches are additional precautions. The 
watch that is kept is so efficient that all 
the governments to the south will have 
timely warning if the rinderpest jumps the 

What did the rinderpest of 1896-98 cost 
South Africa as a whole, the republics and 
the British colonies and protectorates? I 
said millions of sovereigns, and one 
estimate put it as high as £20,000,000. 
More than two and a half million head of 
cattle perished, according to Dr. M. W. 
Henning's estimate in his standard work 
on animal diseases. In the Cape Colony, 
the percentage of loss was thirty-five. 
Donkeys replaced oxen and saved the day 
- but at fancy prices. And if ever the 
rinderpest comes again you will not find 
the farmers selling their donkeys for 
slaughter at thirty shillings per hundred 
pounds dressed weight. 

The good that came out of the rinderpest 
was the founding of Onderstepoort, the 
institute which is now world famous for 

veterinary research. There the young 
Swiss genius named Theiler, who fought 
the rinderpest in vain, made his great 
discoveries and taught his pupils. If the 
rinderpest does come again, 
Onderstepoort will deal with it. 

Chapter 9 

Return To Kimberley 

I AM in Kimberley again, the town where 
I was born, on the brink of scenes as rich 
and strange in their own way as anything 
in the world. If you can approach great 
wealth without envy, I will show you 
diamonds worth millions. 

Kimberley can never hide its past, and 
here is the "Big Hole" again. My head for 
heights has not improved since I was a 
child; indeed, I am so acutely uncomfort- 

able on the edge of this steep, gaping scar 
that I have to remind myself that Nelson 
was always seasick and that Napoleon 
dreaded cats. They say the fear of heights 
is due to the eye travelling downwards 
and measuring the drop, a giddy process. I 
have flown over this same "Big Hole" 
without the slightest feeling of nausea; but 
then the aircraft had become my world, 
there was nothing connecting me with the 
earth, and the impression conveyed to the 
brain was space, not height. 

My fear of heights must have had its 
origin in that gigantic "Big Hole", for 
there were no other heights in Kimberley 
as far as I was concerned. Perhaps there 
are still a few people, over ninety they 
must be, who can remember when there 
was no hole at all. This was just a pock- 
marked area in the early seventies of last 
century, when the first diggers were 
working their claims. No one imagined 
that Cecil Rhodes would secure enough 
diamonds from this funnel to pay for the 

The 'Big Hole' is a stupendous example of human enterprise when there is a glittering prixe in sight. 
From the observation post on the northern edge you see the rough circle, fifteen hundred feet in 


occupation of Rhodesia. I stood there 
once with a later diamond magnate who 
had known it as a shallow pit in the midst 
of a town of canvas and tin. "Sometimes 
there would be a burst of cheering from 
the diggers," he told me. "That usually 
meant a find. There was no jealousy, for 
one digger's luck encouraged hundreds of 
others. Few women came to the diamond 
fields in those days, so every hat came off 
and the loudest cheers of all were heard 
when a white woman appeared on the rim 
of the crater." 

It was "New Rush" in those days, but as 
the series of pits went deeper they became 
the Kimberley Mine. Diamondiferous 
"blue ground" was hauled to the surface 
in buckets. Thousands of ropes were used, 
and in the moonlight the huge crater 
resembled it monstrous spider's web. 
Landslides and rock falls hampered the 
work, but in course of time the area of the 
"Big Hole" at the surface was thirty-eight 
acres. Before the mine closed down in 

1909, it had yielded diamonds worth 
£100,000,000. A shaft had then reached a 
working level of 3601 feet, which made it 
the deepest diamond mine in the world. 
Many thousands of people regard the "Big 
Hole" as the largest man-made excavation 
on earth, but this is a fallacy. I believe the 
Bingham Canyon copper mine near Salt 
Lake City, Utah, is a much larger open 

Nevertheless, the "Big Hole" is a 
stupendous example of human enterprise 
when there is a glittering prize in sight. 
From the observation post on the northern 
edge you see the rough circle, fifteen 
hundred feet in diameter. It is very like a 
vast funnel, sloping down for nearly three 
hundred feet to the dizzy pathway (where 
you will never find me) round the rocky 
vertical pipe. 

Such a dramatic scene has a sinister 
influence on some people. The "Big 
Hole" has known accidental deaths, 
suicides and rescues. All through the 

years the bodies have been found; one 
man, with his jacket on inside out, 
appeared to have been murdered; another 
victim of the mine was a soldier in 
uniform. There was a queer rescue 
episode shortly after World War II, when 
a white man, wearing only a pair of 
shorts, was seen climbing the fence and 
descending the treacherous slope towards 
the vertical drop. A crowd soon gathered, 
and people shouted warnings and begged 
the man to return. But the man seemed 
intent on suicide. At any moment he 
might have gone rolling down the slope. It 
looked as though he was certain to fall 
into the pipe and drop to the water eight 
hundred feet below. 

A coloured school teacher, Mr. G. F. 
Weber of Uitenhage, who had been 
serving in the Cape Corps, decided to see 
what he could do. Weber had never 
climbed inside the "Big Hole" before, but 
he went down bravely, taking great risks 
in the effort to reach the man in time. The 

man was within a few feet of the 
terrifying pipe when Weber approached 
him. Both of them were slipping on the 
steep gravel, and it seemed that both the 
would-be suicide and his rescuer would 
plunge to death together. They met and 
stopped on the very edge of eternity. 
Weber spoke to the man for some time; 
then the anxious crowd saw Weber 
returning alone. He had come to the 
surface for help, and a white man and a 
native constable joined him and all three 
went to the man in danger. 

These three helped the man back. A short 
cliff had to be scaled near the top, and a 
dozen volunteers formed a human chain 
and brought rescuers and rescued to 
safety. There was a mysterious element in 
the affair which puzzled all who were 
present. How had Weber persuaded the 
man to remain where he was instead of 
committing suicide? Weber claimed that 
his success was due to hypnotism. He had 
studied hypnotism for seven years, he 

said; and when he found himself facing a 
powerful man in that desperate 
predicament he realised that only by using 
hypnotism could he save the man's life. 

Trees grow in the "Big Hole" today, 
masses of shale have fallen in, and the 
steep walls have become a bird sanctuary. 
I shudder when I think of it. A gloomy 
place. If it is not haunted it should be; 
haunted by the ghosts of '71 and after, 
adventurous spirits who hurried from the 
far corners of the world, toiled feverishly 
for a time and scattered again, some rich 
and some broken. 

In my youth, and long afterwards, the 
diamond-bearing "blue ground" brought 
up from the Kimberley mines was spread 
out on "floors" for a year so that the 
weather might break up the rock. When I 
returned to Kimberley between the wars, 
however, I found a new system at work. 
The "blue ground" came to the surface 
and was tipped and fed slowly on to long 
conveyor belts. Lines of intelligent natives 

were picking by hand, leaving the rough 
"blue ground" with its glittering mica 
particles and taking off the smooth and 
useless rock. Hand picking is one of the 
most popular jobs on the mines. There is a 
reward for every diamond found by a De 
Beers employee; and although diamonds 
are seldom found until the final 
concentration, the chance is always 
present. A native convict labourer once 
handed in a stone of 268 carats. 

Convicts are no longer employed on the 
Kimberley diamond mines. In the old 
days I was always amused to see 
incorrigible thieves in red-striped jerseys 
working so close to wealth in a form 
which might be regarded as exquisitely 
transportable. Even in the pulsator-house, 
where the diamonds come to light at last, 
the convicts were moving about happily 
amid the machinery. The convicts valued 
their tobacco rations far more highly than 
the diamonds under their noses. You 
could smoke the tobacco, but a diamond 

was absolutely useless when there was no 
chance of smuggling it out. 

I found it reassuring to note that the 
pulsator, most spectacular of the diamond 
recovery processes, had remained 
unchanged since my childhood. This is 
simply a table covered with grease and 
shaken steadily as the gravel washes over 
it with a stream of water. Diamonds are 
caught in the grease while the worthless 
gravel passes on. No one has ever really 
understood why the device makes this 
selection; not even the De Beers employee 
who invented it many years ago. But it 
works. Every two hours the tables are 
scraped clear of grease. The whole thick 
mess is placed in perforated cylinders and 
boiled. The grease floats out and the 
diamonds are left in the locked cylinders. 
A concentration of fourteen millions to 
one is complete. That is the ratio. It takes 
about seventy thousand tons of "blue 
ground" to produce diamonds weighing 
ten pounds. 

When I was last in Kimberley they were 
using dogs to guard the "blue ground" 
lying out in the open and still containing a 
fortune in diamonds. Barbed wire 
entanglements enclosed this private 
treasure-house about a square mile in 
area. Fifty men patrolled the "blue 
ground" area in the old days, when the 
whole output of De Beers had to be 
exposed to the weather. The guard had 
been reduced to four men and packs of 
Alsatians and bullmastiffs. 

All the most important places on the 
mines had their dog sentries at night; the 
pulsator house and the Kimberley offices. 
At each spot a dog was chained to a picket 
line about a hundred yards long. If this 
dog heard any suspicious sound it barked, 
and up came a "fighting dog", that had 
been roaming the area free. Sometimes 
the dogs found a raider wearing knee and 
elbow pads, crawling over the ground in 
search of diamonds. If the man tried to 
escape the dog would hang on to his arm, 

but it would never fly at his throat. These 
dogs were so well-trained that they would 
jump over burning fences, climb walls 
twelve feet high and obey whistles and 
other signals. Such was the routine that 
saved the mines many salaries and made 
the diamond "floors" in the open almost 
as secure as a bank safe. 

When you drive northwards from 
Kimberley, all the way to Christiana, you 
see the river diggings. On the red veld 
beside the Vaal River stand the hovels of 
the diggers and the heaps of gravel, the 
sieves and the washing-machines. Here 
are true gamblers, men who expose them- 
selves and their families to a life of 
hardship in the hope of sudden wealth. 
Some of them have sold farms to live in 

Yet I would be a hypocrite if I denied 
feeling the temptation of the river 
diggings myself. They put a scraper in my 
hand, and brought the gravel from the 
washer, and showed me how to sweep 

away the mass of garnets and moonstones, 
cats-eyes, carbon, agates and olivine and 
crystalloids. I went on flicking at the 
rubbish on the sorting-table until I found a 
glittering stone at last. In that moment I 
saw with startling clarity the whole charm 
of a life that does not even provide three 
meals a day for most of those who follow 
it. I wanted to take a partner who knew 
the game, buy the outfit and sort my own 

Failure seemed out of the question. That 
flick of the wrist would turn up a stone 
large enough to make me rich. After all, it 
has happened again and again. That is the 
curse of the river diggings - it can 
happen. Only when you think of the 
thousands who have lost everything does 
common sense prevail. The old river 
diggings are almost finished. It is a 
lamentable end to a romantic industry. 

For the capitalist, however, the Vaal River 
still offers an even more exciting gamble 
than ever the small digger knew. I drove 

out from Kimberley one day with Bernard 
Goldberg, the "diamond breakwater king" 
to see the greatest breakwater ever flung 
across the river. Goldberg has now been at 
this game for half a century. It was in 
September 1936 that Goldberg took me to 
the pool below Webster's Koppie. Years 
ago Captain Webster discovered that the 
koppie was studded with diamonds. 
Hordes of diggers ransacked that hill, 
leaving it looking dishevelled and 
obviously holding nothing for posterity. 
But the pool called Webster's Pool is a 
deep hole in the river bed, a treasure-chest 
guarded by water. When I arrived there, 
the pool was almost dry. Goldberg had 
spent twenty thousand pounds diverting 
the course of the river and draining the 
fabulous pool. 

It had not been emptied without an effort. 
The breakwater was five hundred feet in 
length, and a side channel nearly a mile 
long had been blasted out of the rock. It 
had taken sixteen thousand shots of 

dynamite to blast that channel. The 
pressure on the wall was tremendous. If it 
had caved in, all the machinery would 
have been lost and the men would have 
been lucky if they had climbed out of the 
river bed before the water poured in on 
them. "It lends a spice to the game," 
Goldberg told me cheerfully. 

Swishing and grinding, twenty washing 
machines were sounding their merry song 
of diamonds. Boulders were being drilled, 
dynamited and torn out of the mud by 
cranes to open up "pockets" of diamonds. 
Natives were working knee-deep, waist- 
deep, shovelling away the over-burden, 
tracing the seam of rich gravel, loading 
the heavy iron buckets that went swinging 
up to the washing machines. 

And there was I at the sorting table 
listening to the old hands at the game. 
"See these water-worn stones with hoops 
like a beer barrel round them - 'bandoms' 
we call them," said a digger. "Well, when 
you get 'bandoms' you get diamonds, and 

when you get 'bandoms' that size you 
expect something good." 

In fact, Goldberg and his partners did find 
something good in Webster's Pool. In 
spite of the outlay of twenty thousand 
pounds, they showed a handsome profit. 
Years later, in 1948, they rebuilt the 
breakwater there; and again they took out 
diamonds worth thousands more than 
their investment before the rains came and 
swept the breakwater away. Goldberg is a 
magnificent gambler. He is also a licensed 
diamond buyer, and once he paid thirteen 
thousand pounds for a single stone. 

I talked to another diamond buyer, the 
oldest of them all shortly before World 
War II. He was the late Mr. Maurice 
Aronson, who had held his license 
continuously since the 'eighties of last 
century. Once the street outside his 
Kimberley office was crowded with 
horses and carts and men dealing in shares 
and diamonds. Now the street is almost 
deserted, scores of diamond buyers have 

given up the game and departed, while 
those who remain carry hundreds instead 
of thousands of pounds in their bags. 

"I once paid out nine thousand pounds in 
a day for river diamonds," recalled Mr. 
Aronson. "And that was at a time when 
diamonds were comparatively cheap. My 
best deal was when I bought a stone and 
sold it the same day at a profit of three 
thousand pounds - a stone that another 
buyer had turned down. There was a much 
stronger element of chance then, for we 
were out of touch with the overseas 
market for weeks at a stretch. The cable 
and telegraph came later. If profits 
sometimes were large, there were times 
when you had to hold on to your stock for 
months to get the money back. Most of 
the diggers, then and now, have an 
excellent knowledge of the value of dia- 
monds. But often a stone is speculative - 
a large white spotted stone, for example. I 
remember a stone found in the Hopetown 
district. The colour was so wonderful that 

one buyer doubted whether it could be a 
diamond. I knew, paid fifteen hundred 
pounds for it, and sold for three 

Mr. Aronson pondered for a moment over 
the glories of a lost paradise. "Then there 
was a woman working on the richest little 
patch of ground in the world at that time," 
he went on. "She offered me a diamond 
for seventy-five pounds. It was obviously 
worth more, and when I gave her a 
hundred pounds she was so grateful that 
she wanted me to take her daughter as part 
of the bargain!" He produced a little 
pocket-book full of large figures, "I will 
show you what the business is today," 
said he. "Here is a sum of six thousand 
pounds - bad debts written off because 
the diggers are dead or gone. Yet they are 
honourable men, always ready to pay 
when they have the money." 

Diamond buyers were among the first 
people in South Africa to use motor-cars. 
Mr. Aronson had a De Dion in 1902. 

Before that he took nearly a week to drive 
round the diggings with a cart and four 
horses, a revolver within easy reach, and a 
bag containing twenty thousand pounds in 
cash and diamonds. 

Here is the final Kimberley scene, the 
Central Sorting Office, a well-protected 
stone building to which all the large 
diamond producers of South Africa and 
South West Africa send their "parcels". 
Some years ago each company maintained 
its own staff of sorters and valuators. The 
Central Sorting Office has rationalised 
this important section of the industry, 
besides giving the sorters a wider 
experience of different types of diamonds. 

In this room are youths learning one of the 
world's strangest occupations, and 
middle-aged experts who can tell the 
origin of a diamond at a glance, and what 
it is worth. They sit over the shining 
fortunes in a long row, men gripped by 
the spell of the diamond, the glamour that 

never grows stale. White paper covers the 
work-table. Besides each sorter are the 
simple tools of the diamond trade. 

"There are the sieves, the only mechanical 
things in the office," pointed out my 
guide. "The diamonds come from a mine 
in a jumble, and the sieve helps to size 
them roughly. But after a few shakes the 
whole process must be done by balance, 
hand and eye." 

We passed into an air-tight weighing 
room to examine the scales. No draught 
must be allowed to interfere with an 
operation in which a weight of one- 
quarter of a carat may mean a difference 
of many pounds in the value of the 
diamond. There are one hundred and forty 
two and a half carats to the ounce. The 
largest scale will weigh a stone of twelve 
thousand carats, if such a stone is ever 

Diamonds are cleaned with hydrofluoric 
acid. They need no other treatment until 

they reach the hands of the cutter. But 
what a shuffling and a series of 
classifications they must undergo before 
they are ready for shipment to London! I 
looked over the shoulders of the sorters. 
Each man had a pair of tweezers and a 
scoop; and sometimes a man would reach 
for the headgear of magnifying glasses to 
decide a difficult problem. 

"It is all done by eye, instinct and 
experience - a human affair from start to 
finish," went on my guide. "No machinery 
will ever replace these men. No textbook 
on the subject will ever be written. The 
job can be learnt only on the spot, by 
watching others, and I suppose this room 
is the finest training ground in the world. 
No other office handles such quantities 
and varieties of diamonds." 

He pointed to the youngest sorter. "We 
have to catch them young - every man in 
this room started learning the art at fifteen 
or sixteen. A man of twenty-five is much 
too old to begin. It is a matter of 

temperament. You must handle diamonds 
constantly for fifteen years before you can 
call yourself an expert. Only then will you 
be able to distinguish diamonds from 
different mines and areas at sight. 
Monotonous work? Never. We find 
diamonds very interesting at all times. No 
two diamonds are exactly alike, and there 
is always something new cropping up to 
maintain the endless fascination of 
sorting. Opening a fresh day's output is 
like opening a newspaper. You never 
know what may be inside, and often the 
contents are startling. Of course, the eyes 
feel the strain, and so a working day of six 
and a half hours is arranged. Weighing 
and invoicing vary the routine and ease 
the strain. In dull weather nothing can be 
done - a dust storm or thunder storm stops 
all sorting immediately. In London, in the 
winter, sorting is a slow process. Here we 
seldom fall behind our schedule. Our 
windows, you observe, face south so that 
no sunshine may fall on the diamonds and 

dazzle the sorters. If the man opposite 
painted his roof white we should have to 
ask him to paint it again, a darker colour. 
Daylight is essential; a great deal of 
money has been spent on experiments 
with artificial light, but no substitute for 
daylight has been found satisfactory." 

As I walked down the line of sorters I 
learnt that diamonds are now graded in 
much greater detail than ever before. A 
mine's monthly output may be sorted into 
a thousand or two thousand different lots 
- a task ten times more complicated than 
the old system of sorting. In one heap lay 
the pick of the output, magnificent blue- 
white diamonds of the finest shape and 
purity. Then there were heaps of colours 
and shades, almost imperceptible varia- 
tions that affect prices enormously. I was 
shown a large stone with black flaws so 
pronounced as to render it almost 
valueless as jewellery. 

Diamonds are found in all the colours of 
the rainbow, but red is the rarest. 

Impurities in the crystal may give a 
diamond a red tinge and increase the price 
many times, an example of a fault being 
worth more than perfection. Green 
diamonds that cut green are valuable, too. 
The whole art of sorting and valuing 
diamonds lies in the power to visualise the 
appearance of the stone after cutting. 
Even the world's greatest experts are 
liable to errors of judgment in this matter. 

After sizes, shapes and colours come the 
"cleavages", diamonds that have been 
broken in the earth; and "maacles", or 
twin stones. Among the stones that would 
look hideous when set in a brooch or ring 
are many that can be sold at high prices 
for industrial purposes. Precision 
machinery demands diamonds. New uses 
for the industrial diamond are being 
discovered every year. A stone that defies 
cutting will command a large price in the 
market where men buy diamonds for 
drilling and the manufacture of engines. 

I pointed to a heap of hundreds of 
diamonds and tested the skill of the chief 
valuator. "Show me the finest diamond 
there, please." Instantly his hand went 
forward and he selected a brown 
octohedron. "There may be differences of 
opinion in valuation, but every man will 
agree that this stone is the best," he 
declared. And then he gave a further 
display of that mysterious sixth sense 
possessed by diamond experts. He 
glanced over a table of open tin boxes, 
each containing diamonds, and told me 
(without looking at the labels) the origin 
of each assortment. 

"These are diamonds from Alexander 
Bay, the famous 'Aladdin's Cave' at the 
mouth of the Orange River, the Govern- 
ment treasure house that has yielded 
millions," he began. "Blue white, brown, 
yellow - all possess a typical brilliance; 
though they are not, as some have said, 
like cut diamonds. The absence of very 
low qualities may be noted. The next box 

is from South West Africa. I cannot tell 
you why they differ from some of the 
other assortments, but I know in my own 
mind. Mines and diggings only a few 
miles apart produce stones that are totally 
different. Freaks do occur, and that is why 
a diamond expert in a court of law has an 
even harder task than a handwriting 
expert. But if I cannot always convince a 
judge and jury, I know in my own mind, 
just as a farmer knows his own sheep. 
Instinct cannot be explained, and we must 
leave it at that." 

These men do not need acids to test the 
stones that pass before them, year after 
year, in gorgeous array. The eye is the 
sole test, and no strange mineral will ever 
deceive them. When the sorting is over 
the diamonds are folded into "diamond 
papers", a description of qualities and 
weights is written, and the little black 
boxes are packed and sealed. They travel, 
not by special messenger as you might 
suppose, but by registered post. 

Diamonds are imperishable, yet millions 
are spent on them every year. Experts 
have estimated that the world's stock does 
not lose five per cent in a hundred years. 
Somewhere in the dawn of time the Koh- 
i-noor and the Sancy were born; and they, 
and most of the famous diamonds of all 
the centuries, are still giving out their fire. 
Famous diamonds sometimes disappear, 
but they are seldom lost to mankind. Their 
careers are stories of murder and intrigue, 
robberies and toppling thrones; romance 
and drama. Long after their owners have 
been forgotten these diamonds are 
gathering legend and superstition with 
their lustre and their charm undimmed. 

Will the human race ever tire of the 
glittering stones that have held the 
imagination of Shahs and Moguls ever 
since a cutting industry flourished in 
Babylon and the Phoenicians sailed away 
on their freebooting expeditions? I put the 
problem to one of the foremost Kimberley 
authorities on the diamond. "Every 

woman wants a diamond, and when she 
has one she wants more," he replied. "The 
demand touches deep instincts. From the 
earliest times the diamond has been 
prized, and no gem has ever taken the 
place of the diamond in the eyes of 
women. Sometimes you hear that pearls 
are coming into fashion at the expense of 
the diamond; but as a matter of fact, 
pearls and rubies, emeralds and sapphires, 
must always rank after the fascination of 
the wonderful diamond. About half the 
weight of every good diamond, you must 
remember, vanishes in the cutting. Many 
smaller stones are used in cutting the large 
ones, so that they disappear. Finally, there 
is the control of the market by the 
Diamond Syndicate which gives stability 
right through the trade, from the miner 
blasting "blue ground" at Kimberley to 
the salesman in the jeweller's shop. The 
world can never be sated with diamonds 
while that system prevails." 

Chapter 10 

Strange Landings 

WHEN MOTOR-CARS and aircraft became 
streamlined and their engines reliable, 
when the cat's-whisker and crystal 
wireless set vanished, the charm went out 
of all these wonders for me. I loved the 
early days. 

I told you about the first car I ever drove. 
There was the romance of the road. I put 
on the old wireless headphones at night, 
and heard the ships talking in crisp dots 
and dashes. That was the conquest of 
space. And nearly forty years ago I flew 
behind a rotary engine with fear and joy in 
my heart. 

In the early days most of the pilots I knew 
were personalities. Nowadays (and 
perhaps it is just as well) I do not seem to 
meet the picturesque and eccentric type of 
pilot who flourished long ago. Great air 
lines do not encourage that sort of man. 
Similarly, a lot of queer experience has 
gone out of the air. You may still meet 
with disaster, but the unexpected hazards 
that aircraft faced before World War I, 
during that war and for a period of years 
afterwards, have gone with the biplanes, 
the wooden propellers and the under- 
carriages which remained firmly in place 
until you made a really unhappy landing. 

Flying in Southern Africa goes back 
farther than some people think. Military 
balloons were used during the occupation 
of Bechuanaland more than seventy years 
ago; and British balloon "aces" operated 
on several fronts before the end of last 
century in the South African War. Some 
of those balloons carried wireless 
transmitters. One of the sights of 

Ladysmith during the siege was a balloon 
tethered to an ox-wagon. It was shot down 
by the Boers, but General White had 
another balloon in reserve. Balloon 
observers sketched the positions of the 
enemy and spotted for the artillery. They 
made photographic maps, too, many years 
before the first air survey. 

Before the South African War ended, 
"pilots" wearing the uniform of the Royal 
Engineers were going aloft in the perilous 
heavier-than-air contraptions known as 
man lifting kites. I said that I loved the 
early days, but those kites were before my 
time and I would not have stepped into 
one unless a pistol had been held at my 

The first aeroplane I ever watched was a 
thing of beauty, a graceful Bleriot 
monoplane flown by a South African pilot 
named Driver, carrying the first airmail 
from Kenilworth racecourse to a landing 
ground beside the Muizenberg vlei. (A 
more ridiculous route it would have been 

hard to imagine, but the special stamped 
cards bearing a date in December 1911 
are now valuable.) That little aircraft had 
a top speed of fifty miles an hour. Before 
the pilot ventured aloft it was customary 
to light a candle, and if the wind blew out 
the flame he packed up and waited for a 
calmer day. A lot of my friends would 
still be alive if only the aviation experts 
had stuck to fifty miles an hour and 

I have served in two air forces, and I 
know the precautions which are taken to 
avoid disaster. Yet in spite of all safety 
rules and devices, the crashes linger in my 
mind. I was lifted out of one myself. 
Again and again I have been far too close 
to the fatal results of human errors of 

Many air historians have recorded the 
early flights in power aircraft by Weston 
and Driver, Paterson and Kimmerling in 
South Africa before World War I. These 
were brave efforts, and I pass on only 

because I like to leave the well-known 
tracks and find the more obscure charac- 
ters of the by-ways. You will not find the 
name of Peter Falk in any book I have 
read, but he was an air pioneer in German 
South West Africa and he told me of other 
early German pilots and their adventures. 

I called on Peter Falk in Windhoek. He is 
a short, chubby, benign man in the sixties, 
and he gained his pilot's licence in March 
1913 at a private flying school in 
Hamburg. Then he joined the German 
Army as a pilot, logging three hundred 
hours on Rumplers during 1913, a 
prodigious amount of flying in those 
uncertain days. After this experience he 
was placed on the reserve, and he settled 
in German South West Africa before the 
outbreak of World War I. 

Falk was in South West when the first 
aircraft arrived. It was a Pfalz biplane, and 
it was landed and assembled at 
Swakopmund in May 1914. Bruno 
Buchner, the pilot, made the first flight on 

May 15, and two days later he set off for 
Windhuk (as they spelt it in German) 
carrying postcard mail. Those postcards, 
with five pfennig stamps, fetch high 
prices today. 

Buchner flew over the Namib desert 
safely and landed first at Karibib. Natives 
ran for their lives. Every stationmaster 
reported progress as Buchner flew along 
the railway line, a pioneer method of 
navigation which is not scorned by some 
pilots even now. Okahandja was his next 
landing, and the long cross-country flight 
looked like a triumph. On the last stage to 
Windhoek, however, he encountered 
headwinds. Twice in forty-five miles he 
put the Pfalz down to tinker with the 
engine, at Teufelsbach and Brackwater. 

He reached Windhoek on May 26, landing 
on the present racecourse. The first 
agricultural show ever organised in the 
colony had just been opened, and the 
aeroplane was a sensational exhibit. It 
cost five marks to enter the tent where 

Buchner stood proudly beside the Pfalz 
answering questions. In calm weather 
Buchner took up passengers, one at a 
time, charging twenty marks for three- 
minute flips round the racecourse. Once 
he made a forced landing in a river bed in 
front of Peter Falk's house, but no harm 
was done. 

Buchner decided that flying conditions 
were good, and announced that after 
touring South West he would carry right 
on southwards to Cape Town. But the 
mountains surrounding Windhoek, the 
highest in the country, looked frightening 
from the cockpit of an underpowered 
Pfalz. (Pilots of much later aircraft hated 
the Windhoek aerodrome.) So he railed 
the aeroplane to Rehoboth and flew on 
again from there. 

It was a most ambitious venture at that 
period, and I do not think any pilot in 
South Africa flew anything like as far 
across country before World War I as 
Buchner did over the South West African 

plains. He touched down at 
Keetmanshoop, and then turned 
westwards and re-crossed the terrifying, 
empty Namib. On June 25 all 
Liideritzbucht came out to welcome him, 
and he deserved it. By this time the war 
clouds were blowing up, and the flight to 
the Union was cancelled. Biichner' s 
aeroplane was shipped to German East 
Africa before war was declared. 

Meanwhile two more private aircraft, an 
Aviatik and a Roland doppeldecker, had 
arrived in the country to be tested under 
African conditions. This expedition had 
official backing. Von Scheele and Fiedler 
were the pilots. There was also a pilot 
mechanic named Truck who remained in 
the country and is still farming there. The 
aircraft behaved well in spite of the heat, 
and the Aviatik made a number of flights 
in the south within its range of two 
hundred and fifty miles. 

A really useful machine was the Aviatik. 
One of this type had just been awarded a 

prize of five thousand pounds in Europe 
for covering fourteen hundred miles 
within twenty-four hours. Both the 
Aviatik and the Roland had one-hundred 
horse-power Mercedes motors giving 
them a speed of seventy miles an hour. 
Their tubular steel construction was in 
advance of British aircraft design. They 
also had special compasses, helio 
apparatus and excellent cameras. 

When war broke out pilots and aircraft 
were taken over immediately by the army, 
and Peter Falk was appointed air staff 
officer. The story of the improvised 
bombs they used - jam tins filled with 
dynamite and shells with streamers 
attached to keep the noses down - has 
been told. Many old soldiers will 
remember the incident on Christmas Day 
1914 when the Aviatik came over as usual 
and dropped a suitably-inscribed football 
on the South African camp at Tschaukaib. 
But there were two incidents which the 
official war histories overlooked. 

One was the forced landing made by the 
pilot Fiedler near Steinkopf in 
Namaqualand. I believe that was the only 
occasion in any war when a hostile 
aircraft landed on Union soil. Peter Falk 
told me that Fiedler was operating from 
Warmbad, observing the movements of 
South African troops along the Orange 
River, when his engine failed. The landing 
speed of the Aviatik was only twenty-five 
miles an hour, incredible though that may 
seem to modern pilots. Thus he was able 
to put the machine down easily. Peter 
Falk, who was on horseback with a patrol 
south of the river, galloped up and helped 
Fiedler to remedy the defect and start his 
engine. They had to work fast, as South 
African forces could be seen in the 
distance. Fiedler got off in time. 

The other incident concerned a goat, the 
regimental mascot of a South African 
unit. The goat roamed about each camp, 
grazing where it could. After one 
experience of aerial bombing it acted as a 

"goat radar" outfit. Long before human 
ears had picked up the sound of an 
approaching aeroplane the goat would 
take fright, dash into a tent, and crouch 
beneath a stretcher. It never gave a false 

I have always wanted to hear a first-hand 
account of another African flying episode 
of World War I - the attempt which the 
Germans made in 1917 to relieve the 
hard-pressed Von Lettow Vorbeck in East 
Africa. The British intelligence knew 
nothing about it until early the following 
year, when a German bandolier containing 
ammunition made in Stuttgart in 1917, 
was found in the Sudan desert. Arabs had 
previously reported "a noisy cigar 
marching explosively in the heavens", but 
no one in authority had believed them. 

In fact, the Germans had dispatched the 
Zeppelin L 59 from Bulgaria, loaded with 
over fifty tons of ammunition, rifles, 
medical stores and many other items. The 
muslin envelope was to be torn up and 

used for bandages, and another part of the 
fabric could be made into tents and 
clothes. The airship could not return. 

It was a forlorn hope, of course, as the 
Zeppelin had to locate Von Lettow, and 
his position was vague. Nevertheless they 
set off hopefully, found their friends the 
Turks firing on them by mistake, and 
returned to base for repairs. On the second 
trip they crossed the Mediterranean safely. 
When the crew looked down on Africa., 
they were the first men to do so from an 

At forty-five miles an hour the L 59 
cruised down the Nile valley, the river 
guiding them by day and the stars by 
night. Bockholt, the commander, began to 
feel his chances of success growing. The 
idea was to fly low over the Makonde 
highlands, where Von Lettow had last 
been reported, and drop a parachutist if 
troops were sighted. The parachutist 
would signal a code word if it was safe to 

Bockholt had covered nearly three 
thousand miles from his base in Bulgaria 
when he was recalled by wireless. "Last 
foothold of Lettow Vorbeck Revala lost," 
ran the message. "All Makonde highlands 
in possession of British. Return 

This was a blow to the twenty-two men on 
board the Zeppelin. They would have felt 
even more disappointed if they had known 
that Von Lettow was still carrying on his 
guerrilla warfare; indeed, he did not 
surrender until after the Armistice. 
However, the L 59 returned to her base 
without incident, having covered four 
thousand two hundred miles. She had 
been aloft for ninety-five hours, and she 
still had enough fuel in her tanks for 
another sixty-four hours. 

It was a great and gallant performance. 
That was World War I, remember, and 
those were the early days which I find 
more romantic than this era of jet aircraft 
and atom bombs. 

Though I have flown far and wide in 
aeroplanes I always wanted to make an 
airship cruise. I was in London in 1931 
when the Graf Zeppelin called, and tried 
to book a flight round the British Isles for 
twenty-five pounds; but the newspapers 
had taken every cabin for their reporters. 
So I went instead to watch the monster 
landing at Hanworth with the great Hugo 
Eckener in command. Eckener was really 
the only man in the world who could 
handle a giant airship successfully, and he 
did it, with great skill, by avoiding storms. 

The local fire brigade acted as ground 
crew when the Graf Zeppelin came down 
at Hanworth. A rope was dropped from 
the airship's bow, and this was made fast 
to a ring screwed into the earth. Then the 
long ship was hauled down and trimmed 
fore and aft, so that she hung poised a few 
feet above the ground. No sooner had she 
come into this position than the crowd, 
forgetting the usual British sense of 
discipline, jumped over the low rope 

barriers and raced in thousands towards 
the airship. I ran with them. The firemen 
and police were helpless. Directly below 
the enormous envelope jostled all these 
people, and many of them were smoking. 

I stood peering into the navigating 
gondola, only a few feet away from 
Eckener. He was livid with fear, as well 
he might have been. All the way down the 
airship members of the crew were leaning 
out of windows and gondolas and 
shouting to the crowd in English and 
German, pleading with them not to 
smoke. They were conscious of the 
enormous bags of hydrogen, and so was I; 
yet I remained there, spellbound, until the 
loudspeakers came into action and the 
crowd drifted reluctantly away from the 
airship. A crowd can be a senseless 
phenomenon, but it is hard to escape the 
influence of that powerful, surrounding 
mass mind. 

In the early days, only a few years after 
World War I, the Belgians started 
commercial flying in the Congo. I knew 
one of the first pilots to fly over those 
dense forests. He told me that more than 
anything else he dreaded the propellers 
breaking up in the air. It had happened 
several times, owing to the steamy heat 
playing havoc with the three-ply wood 
and glue. The same man informed me that 
one of the pioneer air liners vanished one 
day, and it took six weeks to locate it, in 
the treetops, with all on board dead. 

The old hands faced queer risks in Africa. 
I remember a pilot attempting to land at 
the Salisbury aerodrome was kept aloft by 
swarms of locust birds. He saw them on 
the ground, and decided not to risk a 
landing for fear of breaking his propellers. 
Zooming and circling did not disturb 
them, so finally he fired a Verey light and 
dispersed the flock. Locusts have brought 
machines to the ground on several occa- 
sions, and experienced pilots always steer 

clear of a swarm. A locust drawn into the 
air intake pipe stopped more than one 

Then there are those unwelcome 
"stowaways" that sometimes appear after 
a machine has left the ground. The late 
Captain Davenport once came upon a 
large snake in the fuselage after landing; it 
must have travelled hundreds of miles 
with him. My old friend, the late John 
Williamson found himself aloft in East 
Africa with a swarm of bees, which 
became alarmed by the roar of the engine 
and flew out to sting the pilot. He had to 
suffer in silence, for there was nothing he 
could do. Wasps gave a great deal of 
trouble in that territory, for they crept into 
the Pitot tube and put the air speed 
indicator out of action. On another 
occasion Williamson found a nest of field 
mice in his aeroplane. 

A pilot who flew over the salt lake at 
Nakuru, Kenya, suddenly observed a 
flock of flamingos rising ahead like a pink 

and white cloud. He landed after a severe 
fright, for several of the flamingos had 
fouled the machine and partially jammed 
the controls. 

Stranger still have been the unexpected 
adventures of pilots on the ground. A 
South African Air Force officer engaged 
in air irrigation survey in Zululand was 
astounded to see a large, angry rhinoceros 
charging through the camp. Two 
machines were standing in the open, and 
when the crews saw the rhino coming 
towards them with head down like a 
battering ram, they clambered into the 
cockpits and on to the wings. The rhino 
stopped six feet short, sniffed and turned 
away, scattering petrol tins as he went. A 
German air expedition filming big-game 
in East Africa was not so fortunate. One 
machine was attacked by a lion, which 
damaged a wing. Another was charged by 
a rhinoceros and a man in the cockpit was 
injured. A third machine was destroyed by 
a cyclone. 

The sun may be the air pilot's enemy in 
tropical Africa. Lady Heath, flying 
northwards to Bulawayo, felt sudden 
pains in the back of her neck. She 
remembered shutting off her engine and 
putting the nose down in a glide. The 
landing must have been made by instinct 
for she had lost consciousness when the 
machine touched the long gross. Natives 
were pouring milk down her throat when 
she came to her senses. 

Air accidents sometimes have queer 
sequels in South Africa; none more 
remarkable perhaps, than that of the sick 
man who was cured by a crash. He was a 
government official in Ovamboland, 
suffering from blackwater fever, and an 
aeroplane was sent to fetch him to 
hospital in Windhoek. It was a hot day, 
and after a long run the machine failed to 
rise. The undercarriage struck a palm tree, 
and the machine ended up on her nose. 
The patient, whose condition was critical, 
was thrown forward heavily and bruised, 

while the pilot was taken out suffering 
from shock. An urgent message to 
Windhoek brought a doctor by air. He 
found the patient making a rapid recovery 
from a grave disease in which any 
movement may be fatal. 

One crash between the wars which still 
haunts me occurred near Sir Lowry's Pass 
in the early days of the South African air 
mail service. It was a type of aircraft 
which became notorious all over the 
world for wing collapses. That day a 
violent black southeaster was raging. The 
aircraft, with pilot and two passengers, 
had just come over the mountains when a 
wing broke off. I raced out there for the 
newspaper, and found the burnt-out 
machine in a field, the charred bodies 
covered with sacks. No doubt they had all 
been killed instantly when they hit the 
ground, before the fire started. No one 
could have survived that impact. But the 
seconds while the doomed aeroplane 
plunged wildly to earth, no longer 

answering the controls; that was a period I 
should not like to face. 

This crash had a peculiar sequel. There 
was a small parcel of diamonds on board, 
worth about a thousand pounds. Only one 
man in the crowd surrounding the wreck 
knew of this parcel. He was the Cape 
Town agent of the private company which 
operated the service in those pioneer days. 
For a fortnight after the crash he sifted the 
soil all round the wreck, and he recovered 
every diamond except one. 

Old aircraft do not always go to the 
scrapheap in Africa. No doubt some of 
you remember the Silver Queen II, flown 
by Van Ryneveld and Brand in 1920 from 
Egypt to a point near Bulawayo where 
they crashed. Years afterwards I learned 
that the fuel tanks were being used by a 
farmer as grain bins for his poultry. He 
had named his place Silver Queen Farm. 
A broken propeller decorated the farm 
gateway. Rudder and tail planes were 

hanging as historic relics in the Bulawayo 

Then there was the Vickers biplane in 
which Broome and Cockerell flew from 
London to Tabora in Tanganyika during 
the same early period of ill-fated attempts 
to reach Cape Town by air. After the 
crash the heavy bomber lay in the bush for 
a time. Then the settlers found themselves 
in need of a club. They made the Vickers 
fuselage into a neat saloon bar, while the 
undamaged wings formed a shady 

Perhaps the strangest tale of all was the 
discovery in 1928 of a small and ancient 
aeroplane on the roof of a high 
Johannesburg office building. It had not 
been flown there. Someone had dumped it 
on the roof, presumably when he found 
that he had no further use for it. No one 
had visited the roof for years when the 
aeroplane was found. The owner of the 
building had never suspected that it was 

there. It was just a mysterious echo of the 
early days. 

I have known many brave airmen, many 
famous pilots in war and in peace. But the 
most remarkable aeronaut I ever met was 
a low-caste Indian who performed under 
the nickname of Fearless Peter. I was 
strolling round a carnival show on the 
racecourse at Port Louis, Mauritius when 
I saw an old, patched balloon being 
inflated. It was a fire balloon, the first I 
had ever seen, and the last. A couple of 
dozen men were keeping it down as the 
hot air went through a pipe into the 
envelope. As the balloon swelled, the 
crowd grew; there were soldiers of the 
garrison, seamen and stewards. Everyone 
was leaving the big wheel, the merry-go- 
round and shooting galleries and paying to 
enter the arena where the balloon strained 
at its ropes. 

At this moment Fearless Peter appeared, 
gorgeous in the spangles and knee- 

breeches of a circus artist. His black hair 
shone with oil, and his breast with 
imitation medals. I felt that many an air 
hero with rows of genuine decorations 
would not have cared to gain his ribbons 
in the same way as Fearless Peter. 

When the balloon was full Stanton, the 
tough Australian who ran the show, made 
a speech. For thirty cents, he announced 
anyone in the crowd could shake hands 
with Fearless Peter. Many did so, for there 
is a Roman holiday atmosphere about 
these affairs and if anything went wrong 
the people who had shaken hands with 
Fearless Peter would be able to boast of 
the experience. 

"This brave boy is about to rise thousands 
of feet above your heads," declared 
Stanton when he saw the last cent had 
been squeezed out of the handshakes. 
"His life depends on one frail rope. How 
many of you would risk your lives like 
Fearless Peter? Give him a cheer, I say." 

The crowd cheered, and Fearless Peter ran 
his hands nervously over his parachute 

"Are you all ready, Pete?" inquired 

"All ready, boss." 
"Then let go." 

In a second Fearless Peter was a hundred 
feet above the crowd, clinging to the little 
trapeze which hung below the open, 
smoking mouth of the balloon. In two 
seconds the balloon had dwindled to the 
size of an orange. In ten seconds it was 
time for Peter to jump, before the balloon 
drifted away over the city and the sea. 
And he jumped! You could see the streak 
of the opening parachute as he flashed 
downwards. You could hear the whip 
crack as the parachute opened. Mercifully 
it was in a better state of repair than the 

With the weight of Peter gone, the balloon 
capsized, hot air and smoke rushed out, 
and the bag followed the parachute to the 
ground. The race-course was covered with 
people, running frantically, each one 
intent on being the first to shake hands 
with Peter. Down Peter came, touching 
the earth lightly, then rolling over and 
bumping as the wind pulled the parachute. 

That night I went to Stanton's Midway 
Show again, for I wanted to talk to 
Fearless Peter. I walked past the swing- 
boats and the caravans, and I found him at 
last. His moment of glory was over. 
Fearless Peter was back at his usual job, 
in charge of the coconut shy. 

Chapter 11 

A Secret Of The Sands 

South West Africa runs through my 
life as a series of vivid and often dramatic 
memories. When I think of all those 
journeys through the years to the farthest 
corners of the land I realise that it is not 
always a mistake to return to places where 
you have been happy. Never have I found 
disappointment in South West Africa. 
Each time I cross the frontier my affection 
for the country revives. 

It is a land of mysteries. Traces of strange 
people, reports of queer animals and signs 
of old adventures remain unexplained. 
You never know what scene of desperate 

struggle you will find round the next 
dune; and the barren country usually 
provides the most baffling riddles. Some 
graves speak for themselves. The spent 
cartridges still lie on the scene of the 
skirmishes of long ago; and occasionally 
there is an inscription: "Gefecht zwischen 
den deutschen Schutztruppen und den 
Hottentotten." There were also lost 
patrols, and men whose skeletons still lie 
where they died of thirst. 

But it is not the discovery of tragedies 
which makes me love the country. It is not 
the thirst it raises. It is hard to analyse the 
appeal of South West Africa, though I 
appreciate the change of atmosphere it 
offers. German names make a difference; 
Hohenhorst and Hohenfelde, Rosenhof 
and Mecklenburg, among the Afrikaans 
and English names. South West has forts 
and castles. Once I came across a rail-car, 
on the narrow gauge line at Usakos. It 
bore the German eagles and the insignia 
of the Crown Prince, for whose use it had 

been made. And they told me it had 
reached a speed of nearly ninety miles an 
hour on the two-foot track. One does not 
have such encounters in the Union. 

I like the villages of wide streets and low, 
solid houses; the kameeldoring trees in the 
burning sand; the date palms round many 
an oasis; the luscious meat and fine cream 
and butter; the family parties in the bars, 
which open on Sundays, according to the 
easy-going German system. I remember 
the carnations growing out of the desert at 
Swakopmund and the pink tints of the 
Walvis Bay flamingos. 

Yet when all is said and done, the reason 
why I have gone to South West Africa 
again and again is that only there have I 
been able to penetrate almost unknown 
country. One day in the police station at 
Maltahohe I pointed to a spot marked 
Sossus Vlei on the huge map on the wall. 
"What's it like at Sossus Vlei?" I asked, 
for the vlei was far out in the Namib 

desert and one would hardly expect to 
find a vlei in such a place. 

"I've never been there," confessed the 
police sergeant. "Our patrol's don't go 
there and I've never met anyone who has 
been there." I asked a number of people 
questions about Sossus Vlei, but I have 
still to find anyone who has visited that 
vlei in the desert. And I have not reached 
Sossus Vlei myself - yet. 

In the forbidden Kaokoveld, where I spent 
a memorable month with the Bernard 
Carp scientific expedition, there are many 
mysteries. The coast especially, that grim 
shore which has become known as 
"Skeleton Coast", holds ghastly secrets. 

During the German days, before the fort at 
Zessfontein became a ruin, a party of 
Kaokoveld natives arrived one day 
escorting a little white girl, fair-haired, 
about six or seven years old. The officer 
in charge of Zessfontein heard a weird 
tale that day. It seems that old Chief 

Oorlog had sent a party to the coastal pans 
for salt. These men came upon a spoor 
which twisted away across the barren veld 
leaving a groove. They had seen nothing 
like it before, but they identified the tracks 
of wagon wheels as well, and so they 
followed the spoor. It led them to a small 
forest where there was a spring. There 
they found the wagon. One wheel had 
been damaged beyond repair, and the 
travellers had replaced it with a tree-trunk, 
which had left the deep groove. 

All the oxen were dead. The little white 
girl came out of a hut; and in the hut was 
a small white boy. He died next day. In 
another hut some distance away were the 
bodies of several white people, men and 
women. They had been dead for a long 
time. The men hurried back to their chief 
with the little girl, and thus she came at 
last to Zessfontein. The officer tried to 
solve the mystery of that ill-fated wagon, 
but he failed. The little girl went to a 
German mission, and finally she was 

taken to one of their schools in Germany. 
No one ever gathered the details of that 
old Kaokoveld disaster. 

One mystery of South West Africa 
puzzled me for years. I know the answer, 
now; indeed, I might have revealed this 
secret earlier, but it belonged to that class 
of tale which could not be told while the 
people concerned were alive. 

No doubt there is still a file at police 
headquarters in Windhoek dealing with 
the Baby Austin car which entered the 
Kaokoveld illegally from Angola in 1931 
and returned to Angola before the 
trespassers could be arrested. Tracks were 
found all the way from the Kunene to Fort 
Rock Point and beyond, an almost 
incredible journey in the sand and 
sandstorms of that coast for such a small 
car. The late Major C. H. L. Hahn, 
commissioner of Ovamboland, made a 
dash for the Kunene mouth accompanied 
by his wife, a police sergeant and twenty- 
four carriers, but all this effort was wasted 

and the police never knew the details of 
the raid. It baffled the Diamond Detective 
Department for many years. 

I gave an account of Hahn' s journey (told 
to me by Mrs. Hahn) in a previous book. 5 
That brought the man who organised the 
raid to see me. I promised him that I 
would not mention his name during his 
lifetime, and as he was only a middle- 
aged man I never expected to tell the story 
at all. He died in 1954. 

This man who planned the Baby Austin 
raid was Mr. Joseph Suskin of Highlands 
North, Johannesburg, and he was 
employed by a syndicate which included a 
highly-placed politician of dubious 
reputation. The politician had heard that 
the Kaokoveld coast was rich in 
diamonds, but Mr. A. J. Werth, Adminis- 
trator of South West Africa, was refusing 
to allow prospectors into that part of the 
country. However, the politician gave his 

5 "Lords of the Last Frontier." 

guarantee (for what it was worth) that if 
Suskin and his men were arrested, he 
would see that they were not brought into 

Suskin left Johannesburg in June 1930 
with seven men, two cars, two motor- 
lorries, four rifles and ample money for 
the expedition. It was the start of a most 
unusual adventure; one which was not to 
end until July the following year. Suskin' s 
convoy drove up through Ovamboland 
into Angola. They knew it would be 
dangerous to force an entry into the 
Kaokoveld from South West Africa, 
whereas they might reach the Kaokoveld 
coast from Angola without anyone in 
authority becoming aware of it. 

The rifles were a mistake. Portuguese 
officials dislike private individuals to own 
firearms. It savours of revolution. There 
was a delay of three weeks, while Suskin 
persuaded one official after another that 
his party merely wished to shoot for the 
pot. Then they were allowed to drive on, 

over the mountains and down to 
Mossamedes and the sea. 

South they went, all of them on board one 
motor-lorry, along the desert coast to Port 
Alexandre, a little fishing station with two 
streets made of concrete slabs. Already an 
Ovambo who spoke Portuguese and 
Afrikaans had been engaged as 
interpreter. Now an old Portuguese hunter 
named Pimental joined the party as guide. 
He had been in Angola for more than 
forty years and had led a previous 
expedition to the remote parts of the 
Kunene. He wanted five pounds a day for 
his services, but Suskin got him for two 

Pimental took them along dry river beds, 
and after four days they reached a point 
ten miles from the Kunene river mouth. 
There were no roads in that region. It was 
heavy going, and they were dodging 
boulders most of the time. About a mile 
from the river mouth they found a place 
which seemed to be narrow enough for 

the crossing. So the lorry went to the 
fishing settlement at Tiger Bay (thirty 
miles north of the Kunene mouth) and 
returned with a load of empty wine 
barrels. Suskin and his men then set to 
work making a raft. They wasted several 
weeks on this task, but at each attempt the 
current was too strong and the raft showed 
signs of sinking. 

By this time Suskin was running short of 
food and money, so he decided to return 
to Mossamedes and cable to Johannesburg 
for money. "I walked up the beach from 
Tiger Bay to Port Alexandre with several 
native carriers," Suskin told me. "It was 
sixty-five miles, but it would have been 
easier walking five hundred miles on firm 
ground. At every step I went ankle-deep 
into the sand. The water cask was too 
small, and I was thirsty when I arrived 
after a forced march of two days." 

Suskin hired a car at Port Alexandre and 
drove to Mossamedes. The money was 
sent promptly, but he did not fancy 

walking down that beach again and he had 
to wait some time before a fifty-foot 
schooner picked him up. She plied 
between Tiger Bay and the Congo with 
salted fish, under sail only. Suskin found 
the whole expedition waiting for him at 
Tiger Bay. They had left the river owing 
to shortage of food. Senhor Bobela Motta, 
the hospitable chefe du Poste or 
magistrate at Tiger Bay had been housing 
and feeding them. 

Suskin led his party back to the river, and 
another attempt was made to construct a 
raft which would float the motor-lorry 
across. Again they failed. All the 
expedition members except Suskin then 
decided that the venture was hopeless. 
They returned to Mossamedes, where the 
other vehicles had been left, and drove 
back to South Africa. Suskin stayed on 
with the native interpreter. He had made 
up his mind that he would not give up the 
quest before he had seen something of the 
desert coast beyond the river. 

It meant walking, and Suskin was 
prepared to walk. Motta, who had been so 
kind to the party, heard the full story of 
Suskin' s quest and offered to accompany 
him. He organised a column of sixteen 
native carriers, and they all crossed the 
Kunene in a boat and set off southwards 
along the beach. They were in forbidden 
territory, but the chances of dying of thirst 
were probably greater than the risk of 
encountering a police patrol. 

Here I should explain the reasons which 
led the government of South West Africa 
to place an "iron curtain" between the 
Kaokoveld and the rest of the territory. 
Diamonds had been found in fabulous 
quantities a long way to the south, and it 
had always been suspected that there 
might be diamond deposits along the 
Kaokoveld coast. However, the 
government denied that the ban (which 
was imposed in 1929 and is still in force) 
had anything to do with diamonds. It was 
stated officially that the main reason was 

to avoid long and possibly dangerous 
police patrols in that unmapped corner of 
the country. At that time motor transport 
was almost unknown in the remote parts 
of the Kaokoveld, and the police used 
camels and horses. 

Another reason given was the presence of 
lung sickness among cattle along the 
Angola side of the border and in parts of 
the Kaokoveld. By proclaiming a cattle- 
free zone in the Kaokoveld, it was hoped 
that the disease would be kept out of 
South West Africa. This aim was in fact 
achieved. Nevertheless, to this day many 
people in South West Africa firmly 
believe that the Kaokoveld was closed 
because a treasure-house of diamonds had 
been discovered. The maximum penalty 
laid down for entering the prohibited area 
was £500 or one year's imprisonment. 
Suskin thought he was safe. 

As the column led by Suskin and Motta 
marched, they left dumps of food every 
twenty miles. They had an outfit for 

distilling sea water, and this worked 
extremely well. Driftwood provided the 
fuel, and no one went thirsty in that 
featureless, glaring desert. Cape Frio was 
the first point of interest. Five miles 
before they reached the Cape, they found 
the beach strewn with deck chairs, 
cupboards and other ship's furniture, beds 
and at least a hundred demijohns of port 
wine. They opened several of the wicker 
bottles and found the wine delicious. 
Motta knew something about this flotsam. 
Seven years previously the Portuguese 
steamer Mossamedes had become a total 
loss on Cape Frio in fog. She was a 
passenger liner of seven thousand tons, 
formerly the P. & O. liner Sumatra. She 
had 258 souls on board when she left 
Table Bay on her last voyage, bound north 
for the Angola ports and Lisbon. One 
night shortly after midnight the coast 
radio stations and half a dozen ships 
picked up a distress call from the 
Mossamedes : "Ashore Cape Frio S.O.S." 

But the first ship to reach Cape Frio found 
the Portuguese liner abandoned - anchor 
and cable out, main gangway lowered, a 
rope ladder trailing over the side near the 
stern, the lifeboats gone. 

A French gunboat, the famous old British 
sloop Dwarf, a Portuguese cruiser and a 
German liner all joined in the search for 
the fleet of lifeboats. Seven boats had left 
the ship. Six boats, with 227 people on 
board, were picked up. The fate of the 
seventh boat remained a mystery. There 
were women and children in that boat, and 
two British passengers: Mr. John Lane, a 
farmer, and Mr. C. C. Spring, a civil 

Suskin and Motta solved the mystery of 
the seventh boat. They halted at Cape Frio 
after a march of more than sixty miles 
from the river; and there on the beach, 
amid further wreckage, they found thirty 

"It looked to me as though these people 
had landed safely from the wreck and then 
died of thirst," Suskin told me. "I slept on 
a sand dune at Cape Frio that night, and 
close to my blankets I found a pair of 
shoes. Next day I dug into the sand and 
found coat buttons, and then the skull of a 
girl of about fifteen. She must have 
wandered away from the others and died 
alone. We buried her with the other 
skeletons and Motta said a Roman 
Catholic prayer at the graveside. Then we 
made a wooden cross and marched on." 

Before leaving the Cape Frio area Suskin 
found a huge packing case, evidently part 
of the lost liner's cargo. The planks were 
broken and Suskin put his hand in just as 
an eight-inch scorpion walked out. They 
opened the case and found women's 
dresses, ostrich feather hats, underclothes, 
crockery, cutlery, pens and pencils. The 
native carriers were almost naked, and 
they were feeling the cold sea winds. 
Suskin invited them to help themselves 

from the packing case. When the 
expedition moved on the savages were 
clad in silk evening dresses. "It provided a 
little comic relief after the discovery of 
the skeletons," said Suskin. 

They reached a point fifteen miles south 
of Cape Frio, examining the beach for 
signs of diamondiferous gravel but 
finding nothing promising. Then the 
capitao of the native carriers approached 
Motta and declared: "We are now in 
cannibal country and we are afraid to go 
on. Suppose the cannibals want to eat us?" 

"Eat them first," replied Motta firmly. 

Suskin and Motta decided, however, that 
it was no use proceeding on foot. There 
was a huge area to be searched, and the 
Kaokoveld diamonds would not be found 
until they succeeded in bringing some 
form of motor transport across the river. 
Suskin thought it would be possible with 
the aid of a light car such as a Baby 

Austin, which could be rafted across the 

So the expedition marched back to the 
Kunene. Suskin climbed thankfully into 
his motor-lorry on the north bank and 
drove with tyres deflated up the beach to 
Port Alexandre. The lorry would go no 
farther; he abandoned it, and hired a car 
for the drive to Mossamedes. From there 
he took a ship to Cape Town and returned 
to Johannesburg to report to the syndicate. 

The syndicate would not give up the plan. 
Every member was convinced that 
somewhere on the Kaokoveld coast there 
was a beach littered and glittering with 
diamonds. Suskin's idea of a Baby Austin 
expedition was approved and the car was 
supplied. In April 1931 Suskin sailed 
from Cape Town for Mossamedes in the 
Portuguese liner Colonial. This time he 
had one companion, the late Mr. S. O. 
Swailes, an adventurous Irishman who 
had been a soldier, farmer and railway 
official in charge of mules. Swailes had 

Sam SWAILES and the baby car on the Kaokoveld coast. 

been in the Kaokoveld in 1928, helping to 
repatriate the Angola Boers, and was 
selected because of his previous exper- 
ience of the country. He was neither an 
expert motor mechanic nor a man accus- 
tomed to handling diamonds. 

Suskin and Swailes landed with the baby 
car at Mossamedes on April 27, 1931, and 
set out across the coastal desert a few days 
later. The open car, stripped of its hood, 
windscreen and headlamps, travelled well. 
Suskin told me that he covered one stretch 
of nearly fifty miles at night without any 
lights; he was on the beach between the 
dunes and the sea, watching the phosphor- 
escent water out of the corner of his eye 
all the time. 

When they reached the southern end of 
Tiger Bay it became necessary to put the 
car on a boat to transport it to the fishing 
station on the far side of the bay. The car 
fell into the sea, and next day they 
discovered that the damage was serious. 
They could not repair the magneto and 

battery on the spot, and so both men 
returned to Mossamedes by fishing boat 
with the car. The expedition was delayed 
for a month as a result of this accident. 
Nevertheless, on June 8 they were at the 
mouth of the Kunene, making a raft. At 
the river mouth they found two diamond 
prospectors, one Belgian and one 
American, and they had a number of 
native labourers with them. This was a 
stroke of luck for Suskin and Swailes. The 
river was running strongly and the water 
had spread out to a width of about half a 
mile at the mouth. Suskin and Swailes 
would never have got the car across 

"On the first trip we had shot eight 
crocodiles near the river mouth," Suskin 
recalled. "This time we saw a herd of 
gemsbok crossing the river in the shallows 
at the mouth, and Swailes challenged me 
to wade across. It makes my blood curdle 
to think of it now, but both of us got over 
safely. Then we knew that we could haul 

the car across provided we had enough 
men to prevent the raft from drifting out 
to sea." 

Their friend the Belgian prospector lent 
them his labourers, and on June 13 the raft 
was taken across and the car landed 
undamaged on the south bank. Suskin and 
Swailes had one native with them for the 
car dash along the Kaokoveld coast. They 
had the best of provisions, tinned Madeira 
butter and Swiss cheese. Nevertheless, the 
successful river crossing marked the 
beginning rather than the end of their 

"It blew so hard that you could lean on the 
wind at an angle of forty-five degrees and 
not fall over," went on Suskin. "A lot of 
sand came with that wind and made life a 
misery. We camped above high-water 
mark, which we judged by the flotsam and 
jetsam, and spent four days there taking 
the car to pieces to find a defect. Swailes 
slept in the car and I camped alongside 
under canvas. On the fifth morning we 

were all ready to move off when a wave 
came roaring up the beach and passed the 
spot where the car was standing. We got 
away all right, but if that wave had come 
in the night while the car was being 
repaired it would have wiped out our 

They drove to Cape Frio, a low, rocky 
cape where the seals come on shore 
occasionally. There they left a tin of 
petrol. South of Cape Frio, beyond the 
turning point of Suskin' s previous 
journey, they came upon a wooden sailing 
ship half buried in the dunes and about a 
hundred yards above high-water mark. 
(This coast is one of the most changeable 
in the world, and long stretches of it are 
extending westwards as the strong 
Benguella current throws up more and 
more sand.) Swailes found a chair with a 
name-plate which he took away as a 
souvenir. The plate read "Victor N. 
Franco", and that may have been either 

the name of the ship or the owner of the 

Two hundred miles south of Kunene they 
found a gravel deposit with about a 
hundred pegs dated December 1929 and 
marked "Precious Stones", left by a pros- 
pector named Isaacs. "We dug in this 
area, but found no diamonds," Suskin 
informed me. Near the gravel was a hatch 
cover from a ship and the skeleton of a 
white man. Burnt into the boards were the 
words: "W. McMann, survivor of ..." 
Swailes, who noted this discovery in his 
diary, could not decipher the rest of the 
inscription. At another spot some miles 
away Swailes found eleven more 
skeletons and some abandoned carts. He 
buried all the skeletons, collected various 
personal articles and handed them over to 
Motta, the Portuguese magistrate, when 
he returned to Tiger Bay. 

Suskin did not mention the episode of the 
skeletons when telling me his story. It is 
possible that he was prospecting in a 

different area when Swailes found the 
skeletons. An incident which both men 
noted at this time was the barking of wild 
dogs round their camp at night. "Swailes 
said the scouts of the pack had found us, 
and that the rest of the dogs would come 
up and tear us to pieces," said Suskin. "On 
this occasion, to avoid trouble with the 
Portuguese, we had brought no firearms, 
and we felt uneasy. One day we came to a 
large clump of reeds in a river bed to the 
north of Fort Rock Point. There is a 
water-hole among the reeds, but we saw a 
spoor which resembled a lion, and dared 
not enter the reeds unarmed." 

Suskin and Swailes were some way to the 
south of Fort Rock Point when they 
decided they had gone far enough. They 
drove back to the Kunene without 
incident, taking four days. With the aid of 
the labourers the car was floated over the 
river. Suskin and Swailes returned to 
Mossamedes, cabled for money, and 

Sam SWAILES before the diamong raiding expedition started. 

finally reached their homes in Johannes- 

The mystery of the Baby Austin tracks, 
found at various points on the desolate 
coast long afterwards, has been solved. 
But the diamond legend cannot be cleared 
up with the same degree of satisfaction. 
Suskin told me emphatically: "I believe 
one of the early prospectors salted a claim 
with Namaqualand diamonds - hence the 
stories of great wealth which persist to 
this day." 

Mr. Sam Swailes, son of Suskin's partner 
in the venture, gave me the following 
information in a letter: "My father dis- 
covered a very rich deposit of diamonds. 
When I asked him why he had not told 
Joe Suskin, who was in a camp a few 
miles away, he replied that he did not trust 
the syndicate which had financed the trip. 
They had not fulfilled their obligations 
while he was away. So my father thought 
it wise to maintain silence just then, 
although he did mention to Joe Suskin at 

Mossamedes that he had found by chance 
what they were looking for." 

Who was McMann? I put the question to 
Mr. Swailes, junior, and here is his reply: 
"My father thought that he was the last 
member to die of the expedition whose 
skeletons he found beside the carts. It is 
possible, however, that McMann was a 
shipwreck survivor. My father brought the 
board carved by McMann back to 
Johannesburg with him. He burnt the 
board left by Isaacs, showing the position 
of the gravel deposit." 

You remember the American prospector 
working at the Kunene river mouth when 
Suskin and Swailes passed over? He 
reported the raid to the South African 
Police, but the message took so long to 
reach police headquarters in Pretoria that 
the diamond raiders had departed long 
before Major Hahn and his party reached 
the coast. 

Since then many raiders have gone 
hopefully in quest of the diamond treasure 
of the Kaokoveld. They have searched by 
air, land and sea. Some have doubtless 
escaped undetected, like Suskin and 
Swailes. Others have paid heavy fines or 
ended up in gaol. You will not hear of 
Sam Swailes, son of the late S. O. 
Swailes, in any raiding expedition. He lent 
me his father's diary (with certain pages 
torn out) and the photographs of the Baby 
Austin expedition. Sam Swailes knows 
the Kaokoveld coast, for he was there on 
naval service during World War II; but he 
promised his father that he would never 
go there illegally. If ever the Kaokoveld is 
thrown open to prospectors, however, 
Sam Swailes will be on his way, with the 
missing pages of the diary in his pocket. 

Chapter 12 

Legends Of The Victoria Falls 

MOSI-OA-TUNYA! "You must hear the 
thunder before you realise to the full why 
the Mashonas called this place "the smoke 
that sounds". But I was dizzy so close to 
the edge, and moved away to clear my 

In the Rain Forest I found myself thinking 
of a map I had seen, d'Anville's map 
printed by Isaac Tirion in Amsterdam 
nearly two centuries ago. It showed a 
"Groote Waterval", half way across 

Southern Africa, and "Zimbaoe" in the 
land of Monomotapa. 

Some historians believe there were white 
men staring at the roaring waters of the 
Victoria Falls many years before David 
Livingstone arrived. It has long been my 
belief that Kipling was right when he 
wrote of the "lone grey company before 
the pioneers". I have found clear proof of 
such adventurers in more than one of 
Africa's remote corners. The legends of 
the Victoria Falls are worth studying. 

I am aware of a modern official attitude in 
the Rhodesia's which is sarcastic and 
resentful when any claim is made which 
conflicts with that of the explorer whose 
memorial stands near the Devil's Cataract. 
However, the reputation of David 
Livingstone is unassailable. He made the 
Victoria Falls known to the world, and the 
achievements of his noble life rose far 
above geographical discoveries. Now let 
me add that I do not think that Living- 
stone was the first at the Falls. 

Some historians believe there were white men staring at the roaring waters of the Victoria Falls any 

years before David LIVINGSTONE arrived. 

Earliest of all claimants are the Portu- 
guese. Some of their maps, drawn 
between the years 1600 and 1700, and 
housed in the Vatican library, depict a 
"Grande Cataract" on a river which must 
be the Zambesi, then known to the 
Portuguese as the Cuama. (I shall deal 
with that "Grande Cataract" later.) I 
discussed the Portuguese theory with Mr. 
Edward C. Rashleigh, author of a standard 
work on the world's great waterfalls; and 
he had found some evidence in favour of 
Father Silbiera, a Portuguese priest, 
having visited the Falls early in the 
eighteenth century. 

Captain J. J. Reynard, a former curator of 
the Victoria Falls, carried out a great deal 
of research in this direction, aided by 
Father E. King. Both these investigators 
were impressed by the Portuguese claim. 
The old explorers out of Lisbon 
performed mighty feats. Barros, the 
historian, mentioned Lake Nyasa early in 
the sixteenth century, though Livingstone 

in 1859 was the official discoverer. Lopez 
published a book of travel in 1578, and 
his map showed not only Nyasa but 
Victoria Nyanza and Tanganyika. It is not 
disputed that the Portuguese knew of 
Zimbabwe centuries ago. That name (spelt 
Simbaoe) appeared on their maps in the 
middle of the sixteenth century, and their 
knights in armour penetrated the present 
Rhodesia in search of gold not long after- 
wards. They were at Zimbabwe, and they 
might have gone as far as the Falls. 
However, Mr. Reynard and Father King 
made the sad discovery that the 
earthquake and fire which devastated 
Lisbon in 1775 had destroyed the Zambesi 

Here I must explain a trap into which 
many have fallen - the "Grande 
Cataracte" of so many old maps. There is 
a dramatic gorge on the Zambesi just 
above Tete, and six hundred miles down- 
stream from the Victoria Falls. This gorge 
contains the Kebra-basa rapids, ranking 

next to the Victoria Falls in grandeur. The 
rapids form a spectacle which no 
cartographer could possibly ignore. They 
are several hundred miles from the sea, far 
enough inland to cause endless confusion 
when inexperienced searchers pore over 
the rough maps on which the cataracts 
appear. One such map is the Boulton map 
of 1794, in the Parliamentary library in 
Cape Town. Naturally the "Grande 
Cataracte" is not placed exactly where the 
Victoria Falls were found, but the amateur 
regards that as a pardonable error. 

In fact, the old map-makers often knew 
what they were doing. The "Grande 
Cataracte" was something their 
countrymen had seen. It was never 
intended to represent the Victoria Falls. 
So all the Portuguese claims remain 
unproved, and there is a long gap before 
the next possible visitor appears on the 
scene. He is Karel Trichardt, eldest son of 
the redoubtable Louis. These two 
voortrekkers were in the front rank as 

explorers, and nowadays every 
schoolchild in South Africa learns of their 

Karel Trichardt made an enterprising 
voyage along the East African coast in a 
Portuguese schooner in 1838, seeking a 
healthy land where the trekkers he had left 
at Delagoa Bay might settle. He went as 
far as the coast of Abyssinia, and watched 
the arrival in Berbera of a caravan of 
elephants, laden with trade goods and 
guarded by armed horsemen. The 
schooner remained for weeks and months 
at certain ports. Trichardt pushed boldly 
inland at several points through unknown 
country. He also marched with carriers 
from Sofala to Zimbabwe; and from 
Quelimane he set out on a safari that took 
him some way up the Zambesi. Many 
writers have suggested that Trichardt 
discovered the Victoria Falls on this 
journey. So firm is the belief in some 
quarters that a geography pamphlet 

approved by the Transvaal education 
department gives it as a fact. 

Trichardt, of course, visited the Kebra- 
basa rapids, hence the oft-repeated error. 
There was not time for him to have 
reached the Falls, and he never claimed to 
have done so. (Mr. D. W. Kruger of the 
Pretoria Archives staff made these points 
absolutely clear in a paper he wrote some 
years ago.) Trichardt died in 1901, and 
shortly before his death at the age of 
ninety he related his most memorable 
experiences to G. A. Ode, State Historian 
of the South African Republic. The life 
story Ode recorded proves that Trichardt 
saw the "waterfalls somewhere south of 
Sandia", which fixes them as the Kebra- 
basa rapids. No one has been able to trace 
any other period in Karel Trichardt' s life 
when he might have visited the Falls. He 
was the sort of man who would have 
allowed nothing to thwart his effort to 
reach the Falls if he had been anywhere in 
the neighbourhood. Sir George Cory, the 

historian, firmly believed that Trichardt 
saw the Falls, but I think that he, too, was 
a victim of the Kebra-basa rapids. 

Next on the scene is Henry Hartley, a 
heavy club-footed man with blue-grey 
eyes and leonine hair. For many years he 
roamed the wilderness which became 
Rhodesia and the Kalahari desert. His 
descendants are sure that he visited the 
Victoria Falls six years before 
Livingstone; and I think they have made 
out a fairly convincing case. 

Hartley came of an 1820 Settler family. 
When the voortrekkers departed he was 
gripped by the spirit of adventure. Not 
long afterwards he moved up to the 
Transvaal and started the Magaliesberg 
tobacco industry which still flourishes. He 
crossed the Limpopo for the first time in 
1846 accompanied by a number of 
servants including a Hottentot wagon- 
driver named Cresjan. 

Another trek began when Hartley's eldest 
son Fred was three years old. That fixes 
the year as 1849. They went farther north 
than they had ever been before, until they 
came to an area where a steady sound as 
of thunder was heard in the distance. 
Hartley investigated the sound, and thus 
he and Cresjan came to the brink of the 
Victoria Falls. 

Captain R. Hartley Thackeray, a nephew, 
took down the details of this journey from 
members of the family and men who had 
been closely associated with Hartley. The 
description of the scene given by the 
Hottentot was also remembered and 
noted; for the Hottentot had spoken in 
wonder of the rainbow that hung over the 
Falls and the drenching rain that fell from 
a cloudless sky. 

Mr. Henry Hartley, junior, youngest son 
of the Magaliesberg pioneer, was still 
alive in Johannesburg in 1948 at the age 
of eighty-eight. He maintained that his 
father had often told him the story of his 

discovery, and he mentioned an 
interesting sequel. Hartley the hunter used 
to sell his ivory, horns and hides to a 
storekeeper named Forsman in 
Potchefstroom. He told Forsman about his 
journey to the Falls. One day in 1852, 
Forsman introduced Hartley to a traveller 
who wanted detailed instructions for 
reaching the Falls, and Hartley supplied 
them. The traveller was Livingstone. 

Mr. H. R. Raikes, former principal of the 
Witwatersrand University, believes that 
his grandfather, W. C. Oswell, reached the 
Falls before Livingstone. Oswell was a 
thin, charming man, a great elephant 
hunter, and he ranked high as an explorer. 
(He received the Paris Geographical 
Society's gold medal for the discovery of 
Lake Ngami, while Livingstone was 
awarded the English equivalent.) It is not 
disputed that the earliest accurate map 
showing the position of the Victoria Falls 
was that drawn by Oswell in 1851 after 
his journey to the Zambesi with Living- 

stone. I have never understood why 
Livingstone and Oswell did not visit the 
Falls on that occasion - if indeed Oswell 
did not do so - for Oswell' s map bears the 
remark: "Waterfall. Spray seen ten miles." 

Oswell never wrote anything about his 
travels. He was a modest man who 
preferred his friend Livingstone to take 
the credit for their discoveries. There is 
some doubt about Oswell' s routes in the 
neighbourhood of the Falls, and so it is 
possible that he had a glimpse of the great 
waterfall during the 1851 journey; hence 
the family legend. Oswell was notoriously 
lazy about writing. If he had not been 
lazy, the story of the Falls might have 
differed from the accepted version. 

James Chapman, the first man to travel 
overland from Durban to Walvis Bay in 
1855, is thought by some writers to have 
seen the Victoria Falls on the way. I can 
find no ground for this belief, though I 
have searched the Chapman manuscripts 
in the Cape Archives with great care. No 

doubt the idea arose when a study of 
Chapman's routes showed that he had 
once been within seventy miles of the 

Chapman, however, does tell a queer story 
of a man he encountered in 1852, when he 
was returning from his Deka River 
expedition. This man, named J. Simpson, 
was in distress. He informed Chapman 
that he had been trading and hunting 
along the tsetse area of the Chobe, where 
all his oxen had died. Simpson declared 
he had travelled down the Zambesi from 
Linyanti, and had discovered a great 
waterfall. Soon afterwards Simpson left 
South Africa to take part in the Australian 
gold rush. He made no claim apart from 
his interesting conversation with 
Chapman. I sometimes wish that all 
explorers would yield to the common 
impulse which even the great Livingstone 
was unable to resist, and carve their 
names and dates on trees. Then many a 
legend would become a certainty. 

A persistent claim to the Victoria Falls 
discovery is made by descendants of one 
of the old Boer hunters, Jan Viljoen. This 
adventurous spirit was "wanted" by the 
British authorities for the part he had 
taken in the Boomplaats fight. Viljoen 
linked up with Chapman for a time. Then 
he organised expeditions of his own by 
wagon into Msilikazi's country and went 
to the Falls with a guide and fifty armed 
men Msilikazi had provided. The white 
men who accompanied him were his sons 
George and Petrus, Jacobus Erasmus, Piet 
Jacobs and Hermanus Engelbrecht. 

This party, according to the Viljoen 
family tradition, visited the Falls three 
times before Livingstone - in 1851, 1853 
and 1854. The tale was handed down with 
a wealth of detail, and there is no doubt 
that Viljoen and his companions did visit 
the Falls. However, it was only when the 
survivors of these hunting expeditions 
were old men that anyone thought of 
writing down their experiences. By that 

time the old men had got the dates wrong. 
Dr. H. C. de Wet, who investigated the 
legend, found that the missionary Moffat 
was the first man to travel by wagon to 
Bulawayo; and Msilikazi was alarmed at 
the sight of this strange vehicle. That was 
in 1855, and Viljoen really visited 
Msilikazi for the first time in 1859. 
Livingstone paid a second visit to the 
Victoria Falls in 1860. At that time the 
Boer hunters were unaware of 
Livingstone's previous visit, and so they 
claimed to have reached the Falls first. 
The legend of Viljoen' s prior discovery 
still lingers. 

A fascinating and definite narrative is to 
be found in the records of the Pretorius 
family of Marydale, Cape Province. It was 
told many years ago by Willem Hendrik 
Pretorius of Rietpoort in the Waterberg 
district, Transvaal, and set down by his 
grandson, Pieter C. Pringle of Marydale. 

W. H. Pretorius was born at Graaff-Reinet 
in 1821 and lived to be a hundred. He 

took part in the defeat of Dingaan under 
Commandant Pretorius. It was in 1855 
that Pretorius and his young friend Stoffel 
Snyman left the Transvaal with wagons 
and oxen to hunt big-game north of the 

They left their wagons and oxen near 
Msilikazi's kraal and marched into the 
tsetse fly country at the head of a column 
of two hundred carriers. Their guides led 
them to a great waterfall, and there they 
camped. Eight days after their arrival they 
saw the smoke of another camp-fire and 
paid the newcomer a visit. He was David 
Livingstone, ill and hungry. Livingstone's 
natives had been reduced to roasting and 
grinding their rawhide shields for food. 
Pretorius and Snyman were able to give 
Livingstone provisions and medicine, and 
remained with him until he had recovered. 

Snyman died in 1920, and he, too, was 
fond of relating this story of the discovery 
of the Falls. If you accept it, then why did 

Livingstone fail to mention his 
benefactors in his own narrative of the 
discovery? This is a puzzle indeed. I am 
reluctant to dismiss the Pretorius-Snyman 
account as pure imagination, for it rings 
true. The only possible explanation may 
do the great missionary explorer an 
injustice. I give it merely as an attempt to 
throw some light on a deep mystery. 

Livingstone's main ambition was not to 
explore, but to rid Africa of slavery. He 
was seldom very friendly with the old 
Boer hunters, for he regarded some of 
them as enemies of the cause dear to his 
heart. Moreover, Livingstone deplored the 
wanton killing of game as a "form of 
insanity". Students of his travels must 
have noticed that Livingstone sometimes 
made scathing references or failed to 
mention certain white men he met in the 
wilds if he held those men in contempt. 
Nevertheless I find it hard to imagine a 
Christian gentleman such as Livingstone 
failing to place on record the sort of help 

such as Pretorius and Snyman declared 
they had given him. Nor can I reconcile 
this incident with Livingstone's words, 
given in "Travels of a Missionary", on his 
great discovery: "It had never before been 
seen by European eyes." It is just 
possible, however, that Livingstone 
regarded as European only those who, like 
himself, were born in Europe. 

When the early travellers reached the 
Victoria Falls, and for long afterwards, 
there were no natives living within sixty 
miles of the place. They feared an evil 
spirit, they said, which haunted the Falls. 
Cataract Island, on the lip of the falls, was 
once known as Devil's Island, and 
Coillard the missionary said of it: "The 
natives believe it is haunted by a 
malevolent and cruel divinity, and they 
make it offerings to conciliate its favour, a 
bead necklace, a bracelet or some other 
object, which they fling into the abyss, 
bursting into lugubrious incantations, 

quite in harmony with their dread and 

Many white men believe in a Victoria 
Falls "monster" that lives at the foot of the 
falls. Captain Reynard, the curator I have 
mentioned, told me that three men whose 
word he could not doubt had seen this 

Livingstone mentioned a serpent in these 
waters, and it is part of the Barotse 
folklore. Natives assured Livingstone that 
it was large enough to hold a canoe and 
prevent the paddlers from moving in any 
direction. According to fairly recent 
accounts it is thirty feet long with a small 
slate-grey head and thick black body 
which it exhibits in fold after fold. 

Mr. V. Pare, for many years in charge of 
boats on the Zambesi, climbed down to 
the bottom of the Victoria Falls gorge in 
1925, when the water was at the lowest 
ebb in living memory. That was the first 
time he set eyes on the monster. It was a 

serpent-like creature, and when it saw 
Pare it reared up and then vanished into a 
deep cavern. Pare reported seeing it again, 
years afterwards, at the foot of the Devil's 

Natives call the monster Chipique and say 
that it came up from the ocean a thousand 
miles away. Native fishermen are so 
afraid of it that they will not venture out at 
night. "Chipique rules the river in the dark 
hours," point out the fishermen. 

Mr. J. W. Soper, who has trapped and shot 
a great many crocodiles round about the 
Falls, has heard native reports of very 
large specimens. But it is unlikely that 
Mr. Pare would have failed to identify a 
crocodile. It may be a large python, of 
course, like the legendary "great snake" of 
the Orange River. 

People tell you that a crazy pilot once 
flew a small aircraft under the Victoria 
Falls bridge. When I was a newspaper 
columnist I made an effort to trace this 

legend to its sources; and that brought to 
my office Mr. J. J. Jacobs of Johannes- 
burg with authentic information. 

It was in 1931 that Jacobs was flying with 
Pat Hollindrake of Nyasaland and 
Rhodesia Airways. They discussed the 
possibility of flying under the bridge, and 
in a foolhardy spirit they decided to 
attempt it next day. In the presence of a 
crowd of Easter holiday makers they 
narrowly escaped death. 

"As soon as we passed over the main falls 
we thought we were going to crash," Mr. 
Jacobs recalled. "We were being sucked 
down. The 'pull' of the falls is so 
tremendous that there is no air to fly in. 
Hollindrake pulled back the joystick and 
opened the throttle full, and we missed the 
bridge by a few feet. The rumour spread 
that we had succeeded in flying under the 
bridge, and the rumour is often revived." 

For a quarter of a century there has been 
an official ban on flying under the 

Victoria Falls bridge. I doubt very much 
whether the pilot who breaks this rule will 
live to pay the fine. Up to now there have 
been few air fatalities in this 
neighbourhood. However, a large metal 
airscrew is to be seen over one grave in 
Livingstone cemetery. It is the grave of a 
pilot who saw the Victoria Falls for the 
first time more than twenty years ago. "I 
hate leaving this place," remarked the 
pilot as he climbed into the cockpit for his 
departure. The air was lifeless that day, 
and the runway was too short. A few 
seconds later he was dead. 

Some psychologists declare that the 
Victoria Falls throw a sinister influence 
over people who have a suicide complex. 
Sir Leopold Moore (chemist and printer in 
Livingstone in the early days) denied this 
theory. He pointed out that many 
thousands of visitors had wandered round 
the edges of the gorge, with only white- 
washed stones to mark the danger zones; 
yet deaths of any sort had been rare. 

Before the Victoria Falls bridge was built 
the contractors were officially instructed 
to rig a safety net such as circus trapeze 
artists use. The net was placed in position. 
Then the native labourers went on strike. 
They imagined that they would be ordered 
to fall into the net, and they did not like 
the look of it! Only when the net was 
removed did they go back to work. 

Rockets were used when the bridge 
construction was started, to hurl lines 
carrying a transporter cable from cliff to 
cliff. The bridge was built out 
simultaneously from both sides, meeting 
with perfect accuracy on April 1, 1905. 
Before the girders were placed in position, 
a canvas "bo' sun's chair" was used to 
carry men and material over the gorge. M. 
Georges Imbault, the fearless chief 
construction engineer, made the first 
journey himself, as the bonus he had 
offered to the riggers had failed to 
produce a volunteer. 

Imbault also carried out another nerve- 
racking task when the time came to clear 
away the steel rope and pulleys that hung 
below the bridge. A bonus was offered, 
but no workman would tackle the job. So 
Imbault was lowered on a small plank, 
and he worked with both hands to release 
the pulleys. 

One day a girder slipped, killing a white 
mechanic and sending a native to his 
death in the Boiling Pot. Another man fell 
seventy feet from the bridge on to the 
sloping cliff. He survived, brought an 
action against his employers - and lost. 
Much dangerous work has been carried 
out on the bridge since then, but no one 
has been killed. 

Men have fallen into the vortex at the foot 
of the Victoria Falls and lived. There is a 
tale, which may be no more than a legend, 
which goes back to the days when the 
bridge was under construction. I was told 
that a Trooper Ramsay of the Northern 
Rhodesia Police was paddling a canoe 

above the Falls during the flood season. 
He lost his paddle, and for seven miles the 
merciless current swept him downstream 
until he came to the lip of the Falls. There 
man and canoe parted company and 
dropped four hundred feet into the Boiling 
Pot. A policeman and several others 
watched the nerve-racking incident, then 
hurried down to the edge of the swirling 
waters. One man made a line fast round 
his waist, ventured into the Boiling Pot 
and gripped Ramsay as the current bore 
him past. Both men emerged alive and 
unharmed, thus ending happily a true 
story of magnificent courage and luck. Or 
so the story runs. I wish that some "Old 
Drifter" would confirm it. 

One of the earliest tragedies of the 
Victoria Falls involving white people was 
the result of a canoe being overturned by a 
hippo. Two men, two women and a baby 
and the usual crew of black paddlers 
struggled in the swift stream above the 
Falls. Two of the white visitors were 

drowned, but the baby was rescued by a 
paddler and restored to the mother. It is 
satisfactory to be able to record that the 
native was pensioned for life. 

Mysterious indeed was the discovery of 
the body of a young man many years ago. 
There is a path leading to the aptly-named 
Knife Edge which only those with steady 
heads should take. Below this path the 
body was found, in a sitting position on a 
ledge of rock. It was thought the man had 
fallen through the deceptive undergrowth 
and bush, and had injured his spine. In his 
pockets were fifteen half-sovereigns and a 
railway ticket to Elisabethville in the 
Belgian Congo. But from that day to this 
his identity has never been established. 

Among the lucky escapes at the Falls one 
must not forget the diner-out, an elderly 
man, who tried to follow the path from the 
bridge to the Livingstone Road one dark 
night. He lost his way, fell over the edge, 
and was caught by a tree before he had 
time to hurt himself seriously. Someone 

heard his shouts at daybreak and he was 
rescued, moaning over the loss of his false 
teeth and a bottle of whisky. 

A naval seaman, on leave from the Africa 
Squadron between the wars was not so 
fortunate. During the dry season the Falls 
dwindle away and from a gigantic series 
of breaking waves they become a few thin 
streams. The doomed sailor set out one 
exceptionally dry year to cross the very 
edge of the Falls to Livingstone Island. He 
reckoned without the force of those 
mighty waters; for streams which appear 
as trickles at a distance are dangerous 
enough when you slip into them. The 
sailor put his weight on a shifting stone 
and was instantly lost. They found his 
body just below the surface within a foot 
of the great drop, wedged between rocks. 

Only once have the Victoria Falls been 
featured in the newspapers of the world as 
the scene of a murder. That was in July 
1930, when Mrs. Una Kirby of Pretoria 

was attacked by a native and slipped over 
the edge in the struggle that followed. 

Native troops were summoned 
immediately Mrs. Kirby's companion 
reported the crime, and an impassable 
cordon was thrown round the area. A 
strong guard was placed on the Victoria 
Falls Bridge. Late that night a native 
wearing torn, blood-stained clothing tried 
to break through the cordon at the bridge; 
and in his effort to escape arrest, he fell 
over the cliff. Two hundred feet down a 
rock stopped his progress. Corporal 
Jordan of the Northern Rhodesia Police 
was lowered over the edge, and brought 
the native back to safety. But the man, 
who was undoubtedly the murderer, died 
on the way to hospital. 

Attempts to recover the body of Mrs. 
Kirby went on for weeks, and were finally 
successful. After a long search by land 
and air the body was located with the aid 
of powerful field glasses. Then three 
brave men were lowered in a specially 

constructed cage to the base of the Falls. 
Drenched in spray during the forty- 
minutes' descent, they reached the body 
and were hauled slowly back to the 
summit with their burden. 

Thousands of South African visitors to the 
Victoria Falls read with regret of the death 
in 1937 of Percy M. Clark, that famous 
"Old Drifter" who sold native curios and 
photographs in picturesque huts beside the 
Zambesi. Percy Clark was one of those 
men whose deaths have been prematurely 
reported. It was in 1904 that this news 
reached Bulawayo as a result of a queer 

Clark, accompanied by an engineer named 
Fox, decided to explore the gorge while 
the Victoria Falls bridge was being con- 
structed. They were actually the first to 
reach the bottom from the southern bank. 
There they separated. Clark, exhausted by 
climbing, spent the night in the gorge. 
Fox, climbing alone, fell a hundred feet, 
broke his fall on a tree, and landed on a 

ledge of rock. A rescue party brought him 
up with the aid of a crane. In the 
meantime Clark had been reported dead. 
He climbed back to safety and found that 
his friends had opened a bottle of whisky 
to mourn his loss. 

Tales of heroism you hear at the Falls are 
true. One day two natives were wrecked 
in their canoe on an islet near the Eastern 
Cataract. The river was in full flood, and 
it seemed that they were hopelessly 
marooned and destined to die of 
starvation. However, Mr. Pare and 
Trooper Gerald Martin of the police 
stripped and set off in a large canoe with 
five native paddlers. It was a ten to one 
chance, but Pare's handling of the canoe 
brought it off and they returned safely 
with the castaways. Pare and Martin were 
awarded the British Empire Medal for this 
feat, and the five native paddlers shared a 
handsome sum subscribed by the people 
of Livingstone. 

Great rescues were carried out during 
World War II, when high-spirited but too 
daring young men, stationed in Rhodesia 
for air training, attempted too much. One 
air cadet named Stanton tried to scale the 
four hundred and fifty foot precipice 
above the Boiling Pot. After climbing 
three hundred feet he found that he could 
not move in any direction, and there he 
remained for an hour before he was seen 
from the bridge. 

Sergeants Pywell and Wordsworth of the 
police went to the rescue. Wordsworth 
tried to reach Stanton with a breeches- 
buoy and a rope ladder, but the ladder was 
too short. Pywell then went down in the 
breeches-buoy with a longer ladder. He 
was held up when the rope caught in a 
bush, but freed the ladder after a long 
struggle. When he had reached the limit of 
the rope, Pywell found that he was still 
thirty feet away from Stanton. Pywell then 
tried to swing the rope ladder across to 

Stanton, like a trapeze artist; but every 
attempt fell short. 

By this time the bridge was crowded with 
anxious spectators. They saw Stanton 
clinging to the cliff for his life; and they 
watched Pywell suspended about three 
hundred feet above the Boiling Pot, trying 
again and again to reach Stanton. Here 
was drama indeed, with the roar of the 
Victoria Falls providing grim music, the 
spray blowing across in gusts like a vivid 
stage effect, and the green precipice as 

Then a chill ran through the crowd. Men 
clutched the railing and many prayers 
were said when they saw Pywell climb 
out of the security of the breeches-buoy 
on to the rope ladder. With magnificent 
courage this sergeant of police turned 
himself into a human pendulum, swinging 
himself towards Stanton. At last Pywell 
made contact, put Stanton into the 
breeches-buoy and saw him hauled up the 
cliff. Only then did Pywell return to 

safety. Never was the bronze medal of the 
Royal Humane Society more richly 

One night in February 1955 a Mr. Alan 
Perry went out with a party from the hotel 
to see the lunar rainbow over the Eastern 
Cataract. That night Perry survived a 
longer and more painful ordeal, I think, 
than any other Victoria Falls accident 

He was talking to his companions at the 
edge of the cliff when suddenly he found 
himself in mid-air. To this day Perry does 
not know whether he slipped or lost his 
sense of balance. He struck a tree or bush 
about one hundred and fifty feet down and 
broke his fall. The impact was so severe, 
however, that he also broke all his ribs 
down one side. 

Perry, an ex-soldier and racing motorist, 
kept his nerve even in that ghastly 
situation. Looking down, he saw the river 
hundreds of feet below. He knew that he 

must find a more secure perch. So in spite 
of intense pain and shock he managed to 
claw his way up about twelve feet to a 
narrow ledge. He realised that he might 
faint; however, he was able to use his 
scarf to tie himself to a tree stump. 
Torches and car headlamps played on the 
cliff, but only at dawn was Perry able to 
signal to his rescuers and show them that 
he had not fallen into the gorge. 

The rescuers on this occasion were Dr. R. 
E. Dunn, a government medical officer, 
and Mr. J. V. Tebbitt, a game ranger. 
They climbed down the precipice boldly 
with a rope ladder, ropes and a stretcher. 
It was a perilous manoeuvre in every way. 
One of the large stones dislodged by the 
stretcher hit Perry on the head; all the 
others passed over him. Then the rescuers 
got to their man, Dunn injected morphia, 
and they strapped him into the stretcher. 
Perry had been in danger for ten hours 
when he was hauled slowly to the top of 

the cliff. In ten hours he had aged ten 

"Mosi-oa-Tunya!" What tales are in your 
mighty voice. Will that thunder ever be 
stilled? The natives say that three hundred 
years ago the Falls were in a different 
place. Air photographs show two lines of 
weakness radiating from the great cleft in 
the Western Cataract. This erosion 
suggests that sometime in the future the 
present line of the Falls will be altered. 
Fifty or a hundred years hence South 
Africa may no longer draw travellers from 
the farthest corners of the earth to 
experience the wonder that Livingstone 
felt as he stared awe- struck at the torrent 
which he named in honour of his Queen. 

Chapter 13 

Sarie Marais 

O bring my terug na die ou Transvaal, 

Daar waar my Sarie woon, 

Daar onder in die mielies by the groen 

Daar woon my Sarie Marais. 

IN MY Africana collection there is an early 
copy of that famous song, presented to me 
by Mr. Justice N. J. de Wet, at one time 
Officer Administering the Union 
Government. He told me the true story of 
Sarie Marais. 

Some regard the heroine of the song as a 
mysterious figure. Certainly the identity 
of Sarie Marais once aroused a vigorous 
controversy in South Africa. You may be 
surprised to hear that Sarie Marais was a 
real woman, but there is no doubt about 
that. I hope that I shall not stir up any 
further argument now by putting the facts 
before you. 

One school of thought claimed a Mr. J. P. 
Toerien, born in Paarl in 1859, as the 
author of the words, and it was said that 
his wife, Susara Margaretha Mare 
composed the song. Toerien was a fervent 
Afrikaans pioneer, a frequent contributor 
of verse to the first Afrikaans magazines, 
which were published in Paarl. His pen 
name was Jepete. He was musical, and 
among his efforts was an attempt to write 
a South African national anthem. 

Toerien settled in Pretoria and earned his 
living as a journalist. There he met his 
wife, and obviously she inspired a great 
deal of his later poetry, as her name 

occurs again and again. It was claimed 
that Toerien wrote "Sarie Marais" in her 
honour. The printer is supposed to have 
altered the spelling of Mare to Marais by 
mistake. According to the Toerien 
claimants, the song was written before the 
South African War. 

Toerien died in 1920, but Mrs. Toerien 
lived to the age of seventy-three, and died 
in 1939 in Bloemfontein. Two years 
before her death a newspaper sent a 
journalist to ask her whether she was the 
original Sarie Marais of the song. It is said 
that Mrs. Toerien first admitted that she 
was, but published a strong denial soon - 
afterwards. She was a modest, religious 
woman who disliked personal publicity. 
When she died, some newspapers describ- 
ed her as the woman who inspired the 
song. She had sixteen children, and those 
who are still alive are convinced that their 
mother was the original Sarie Marais. 
Toerien' s manuscript with the first 

version of the song is supposed to have 
perished in a fire. 

The story of Sarie Marais which I accept 
begins in 1902, when Mrs. Ella de Wet 
was anxious to join her husband in the 
field. De Wet was on the staff of General 
Louis Botha, then operating in 'Natal. It is 
pleasant to find evidence of little wartime 
courtesies long ago. Lord Kitchener 
passed Mrs. de Wet through the lines so 
that she could join her husband. They 
spent three weeks together on a farm in 
the Vryheid district. There was a piano, 
and Mrs. de Wet played the 
accompaniments at the evening singsongs. 
There the Sarie Marais song was born. 

Before that, the men of the commandos 
had been singing "Ella Rhee", an 
American negro song of the Civil War 

Sweet Ella Rhee, so dear to me, 

Is lost for evermore 

Her home was down in Tennessee 

Before the cruel war. 

"Ella Rhee", also known as "Carry me 
back to Tennessee", was composed by 
Septimus Winner. Mrs. de Wet based the 
music of the 1902 version of Sarie Marais 
on "Ella Rhee". She found it in an 
American album (for there were few 
Afrikaans songs at that period), and made 
no claim to originality in the music. 

At first not only the music but also the 
words bore some resemblance to "Ella 
Rhee". Two verses were hammered out by 
the happy party round the farm-house 
piano, everyone making suggestions. The 
original verses ran as follows: 

My Sarie Mare is so ver van my hart, 

Om haar nooit weer te sien, 

Sy het in die wyk van die Mooi Rivier 

Voordat die oorlog begin. 
O neem my terug na die ou Transvaal, 
Daar waar my Sarie woon. 

Daar onder in die mielies by die groen 

doring boom, 
Daar woon my Sarie Mare. 

You have noted the spelling Sarie Mare. 
The company round the piano selected the 
name of the mother of a beloved veld- 
prediker, the Rev. Paul Nel, as the heroine 
of the song. 

So the original Sarie Marais was the Sarie 
Mare of Uitenhage who married Louis 
Jacobus Nel of the farm Welgegund, 
Natal. She had made the long and 
adventurous trek from Uitenhage with her 
brother Paul to visit her uncle, Oom 
Wynand Mare, near Greytown. And when 
a young farmer Louis Jacobus Nel rode 
over to call, they fell in love at once and 
became engaged a few weeks later. Sarie 
was seventeen when they were married. 

Owing to the distance they had dispensed 
with the traditional ouersvra ritual, so 
now they set off by ox-wagon for 
Uitenhage to receive the parental blessing. 

That was in the late eighteen-fifties, but 
already a photographer had started a 
business in Pietermaritzburg, and there is 
a treasured photograph in the family 
album of Sarie in her wedding-dress. 

After the visit to the Cape, which lasted a 
full year in those leisurely days, they 
settled on the Nel farm. Sarie died in 1877 
at the age of thirty-seven, at the birth of 
her eleventh child. She was buried on 
Welgegund. Her son Paul became 
minister of the Dutch Reformed Church at 
Jeppestown, Johannesburg, and many of 
the men of General Louis Botha's forces 
belonged to this congregation. According 
to Mrs. Janie A. Malherbe, a grand- 
daughter of Sarie Mare Nel, the Rev. Paul 
Nel was the first Voortrekker descendant 
to become a minister. During the South 
African War he was in great demand 
round the camp fires of the commandos. 
He talked to the men of the early days of 
Natal, stories he had heard from his 

father; and he told them of his mother 
Sarie Mare, her journey and her romance. 

Such was the heroine of the song. "I am 
not at all certain how far the words were 
my wife's, and how far they were made 
up by the members of General Botha's 
staff," Mr. Justice de Wet wrote to me. 
"The men who could throw light on this 
subject - Louis Esselen, Dick van Velden 
and others - have all passed away. The 
song was the product of the war." 

Mr. Justice de Wet became Minister of 
Justice in the Union Cabinet in 1913, 
which meant spending part of the winter 
in Cape Town. Mrs. de Wet told her 
friends long afterwards that her exile at 
the Cape aroused her longings for the 
Transvaal and reminded her of the song. 
She set to work on an improved version of 
"Sarie Mare". One day in 1915, when 
Professor Leo Fouche was staying with 
the De Wets at Groote Schuur Avenue, 
she sang and played it to him. (Fouche 
was professor of history at Witwatersrand 

University, but he was also interested in 
music.) She invited Fouche's criticism, 
and he made a number of suggestions. By 
this time the music differed considerably 
from "Ella Rhee". The song had lost some 
of its pathos; in fact, it was a merry effort. 
Americans failed to detect its "Ella Rhee" 

The process of polishing the song and 
music went on for years. Miss Ellaline 
Roos supplied a third verse, based on part 
of another song called "Upington se 
Strand", and running as follows: 

Ek was so bang dat die kakies my sou 

En ver oor die see wegstuur 

Toe vlug ek na die kant van die 

Upington se strand, 
Daar onder langs die Groot Rivier. 

Up to this time the song was not widely 
known. Only a few copies were available, 
hand-written by Mrs. de Wet and given to 
a few close friends. These copies, if they 

still exist, would be valuable pieces of 
Africana today. 

General Smuts persuaded Mrs. de Wet to 
publish the song, and the first sheets 
appeared with the music in 1920, bearing 
the imprint of Darter's, Cape Town. The 
title was Sarie Mare (not Marais). Other 
firms published imitations, and the title 
became Sarie Marais. 

Mrs. de Wet never liked the verse which 
began: "Ek was so bang dat die kakies sal 
my vang. " It suggested a timid character. 
In the second edition, therefore, she 
altered it, as follows: 

O altyd was sy bang dat die kakies my 

sou vang 
En ver oor die groot vlei stuur, 
Of sit my in 'n skip en stuur vir my 'n 


Ver van die Mooi-rivier. 

This edition also included a final verse, 
ending on a happy note: 

Verlossing het gekom en huis-toe gaan 

was daar, 
Terug na die ou Transvaal 
My liefling persoon sal seker ook daar 


Om my met 'n kits te onthaal. 

When you sum up all the changes in 
words and music, "Sarie Marais" is 
sufficiently different to be regarded as a 
South African product. Thousands look 
upon it as the richest jewel in our own 
treasury of song. 

Once, and only once that I can remember, 
"Sarie Marais" was attacked by an 
Afrikaans music-critic in Cape Town. 
"Sarie Marais is not our own," he declared 
in a newspaper article. "There are people 
who make out that she is our own. They 
are the people who delight in showing the 
world what South Africa can produce in 
the way of music. They are doing us more 
harm than good. Our people have more 
and better songs than "Sarie Marais'. That 
this song has captured the great bulk of 

our people and still fascinates them today 
is not to be doubted, but I am not going to 
test the musical taste of our people by that 
majority. "Sarie Marais' has served her 
time. I am asking my readers to do 
everything in their power to kill "Sarie 
Marais'. She must be murdered. " 

I discussed this outburst with several 
musicians, including the late Mr. William 
J. Pickerill, then musical director of the 
Cape Town Orchestra. Pickerill was an 
admirer of "Sarie Marais". He considered 
it superior to most of the piekniek liedjies. 
And he remarked wisely: "Nothing is 
more likely to give a song a long life than 
attempts to kill it." Pickerill also 
explained to me that there were only 
twelve semi-tones in the music; thus it 
would be remarkable if the song did not 
have points of similarity to other songs. 

The man who denounced Sarie was a 
good musician, but he was a poor 
psychologist. Pickerill was right. 
However, "Sarie Marais" was not an 

instantaneous success when the first 
music sheets were printed in 1920. The 
public response was slow, and between 
1920 and 1937 only four thousand copies 
of Mrs. de Wet's version were sold. I 
believe that the turning point came when 
controversy over the authorship revealed 
the fact that Sarie Marais was no mythical 
figure but a real personality. 

Incidentally, the Susara Margaretha Mare 
(Mrs. Toerien), whose name I have 
mentioned, was a distant relative of Sarie 
Mare of Uitenhage. If you are still 
wondering why I am so emphatic in 
rejecting the claims made on behalf of the 
Toeriens, please study Mrs. Toerien' s 
own disclaimer. Mrs. Janie Malherbe 
looked it up in the files of the 
Bloemfontein "Volksblad". Here is a 
translation: "I am not that Sarie. I do not 
like the song and my husband never wrote 
it. If he had done so I would have known 
about it, as he showed me everything he 
ever wrote." 

One point which still mystifies me a little 
was an incident during the visit of the 
Steele-Payne Bellringers to Graaff-Reinet 
in 1918. (I suppose only middle-aged and 
older readers will remember this famous 
company of musicians who toured South 
Africa. for so many years.) A 
schoolmaster approached Claude Steele, 
gave him a book of school songs, and 
requested him to play one of the songs at 
the next show. It was "Sarie Marais". 
Claude Steele adapted it for the bells, and 
it was a great success. Evidently some 
unknown and forgotten music-lover 
produced a version which found its way 
into print some time before Mrs. de Wet's 
printed version. Mrs. de Wet' s position as 
the original composer (aided by friends 
during and after the South African War) 
remains secure. 

Mrs. de Wet was a good pianist. Apart 
from her most famous achievement she 
composed words and music for the 
Afrikaans songs "Moederlief ', "Die Vaal 

Hare en Bloue Oe" and "Het Jy Vergeet? They got back all right, but without the 


"Sarie Marais" has been translated into 
English, French and Italian, and towards 
the end of World War II it was reported 
that a Russian version had been prepared 
for the army! (O bring me back to old 

Perhaps the song still touches the deepest 
human feelings when the singers are far 
from South Africa. At home it is a jolly 
dance tune. In exile, "Sarie Marais" is the 
very essence of the longing which a 
homesick South African knows when he 
thinks of the land of his birth. 

I know an Afrikaner who made a 
memorable voyage in a small yacht from 
Table Bay to Panama. He named her Sarie 
Marais (how well I remember that 
ceremony) and in metal letters under her 
counter appeared the stirring words: 
"Bring ons terug na die ou Transvaal." 

Chapter 14 

Earthquake Feeling 

Earthquakes rarely come my way. 
For years it fell to my lot to rush out and 
report fires and floods, shattered trains, 
shipwrecks and crashed aircraft, accidents 
caused by man and the less predictable 
convulsions of Nature. I have felt 
earthquake shocks in Burma and Egypt; 
but when I had to write an earthquake 
story in Cape Town, it usually meant no 
more than a visit to the seismograph at the 

The line on this seismograph was seldom 
absolutely "flat", for this sensitive 
instrument recorded the breaking of the 
seas on the Cape beaches. But when I 
went to the university with news of a 
serious Japanese earthquake, there were 
jagged sweeps up and down the paper. 

If you are afraid of earthquakes, South 
Africa is one of the safest areas on the 
uneasy crust of this earth. Only keep out 
of Zululand. You may be surprised to 
learn that South Africa feels an 
earthquake of the fifth degree, or higher, 
at the rate of one a year. And in 1932 
there was a tenth degree earthquake on the 
sea-floor close to Zululand, causing 
widespread alarm and damage. 

Earthquakes fall into twelve classes, 
starting with imperceptible 'quakes which 
can be recorded only by instruments, and 
ending with major catastrophes in which 
every human structure is destroyed. India 
had one in which three hundred thousand 
lives were lost. I have been through the 

South African records without discovering 
a single death caused by an earthquake. 
This is remarkable when you consider that 
the ninth degree shocks experienced in 
Zululand are classed as "highly destruc- 
tive". Van Riebeeck had no 'quakes to 
enter in his diary, but he did mention his 
pleasure in their absence. He had seen 
enough devastation in the East Indies. 
Simon van der Stel, in 1695, gave the first 
recorded description of a South African 
earthquake. This was in Cape Town, and 
he wrote: "In the evening of September 4, 
between seven and eight, weather clear 
and calm, without a breath of wind, a 
heavy earthquake was felt, which created 
a loud noise in the foundations of the 
earth, as if it were a passing roll of 
thunder. It lasted so long that one hundred 
might have been counted. The natives 
declared that they had never before heard 
or felt anything of the kind." 

Of course the Cape Town 'quake that 
everyone has read about was the 1809 

shock when the soldiers of the garrison 
hurried out of their barracks "naked and 
tumbling over each other in their haste". 
They remembered their discipline on the 
Parade and formed up in two ranks, but 
still with hardly a kilt or breeches among 
the lot of them. 

William Burchell the botanist, the most 
pleasant and intelligent Cape traveller of 
his day, gave an account of that 'quake. 
He described the consternation, people 
abandoning their houses and pitching 
tents on the squares and in gardens. 
"Some persons lived in that manner for 
more than a fortnight, impressed with the 
idea that the end of the world had come," 
Burchell wrote. "Many attended divine 
service in the churches and meeting- 
houses for the first time in their lives, and 
all business was neglected for a few 

Burchell was in Cape Town when another 
'quake was felt two years later. The 
nerves of the people of Cape Town were 

still on edge. "I have known a whole 
party, in the midst of their conviviality, to 
fly precipitately out of the house upon one 
of the guests happening in a convivial 
mood to dance across a floor overhead 
and cause it to shake," Burchell remarked. 
"There were two shocks on a fine day in 
the forenoon. The first was like the report 
of a cannon and the second like the 
loudest peal of thunder. In the fright that 
ensued I believe that every inhabitant of 
Cape Town who could move rushed out 
of the houses." Some days later there was 
another shock and a hollow rumbling 
sound like a smothered howling passed 
underfoot with a strong trembling of the 

In a "Government Gazette" dated 
December 4, 1835, I found details of an 
early attempt to make a scientific study of 
earthquakes. There had been a mild shock 
in Cape Town and the neighbourhood 
during the night of the previous 
November 11. Out at the observatory Sir 

Thomas Maclear and others were working 
all night; they felt nothing, but heard a 
sound like a cannon. The "Gazette" 
published this advertisement: "Any 
gentlemen, country agents and others, 
who can give any information relative to 
the late 'quake are asked to communicate 
with the committee of the South African 
Scientific and Literary Institute. J. C. 
Close, honorary secretary." 

All through last century you find records 
of mild shocks in Cape Town and the 
platteland. Durban was shaken to its 
foundations in 1860, and there was a 
sound (well-known to 'quake observers) 
like heavy wagons passing quickly along 
a hard road. Ten years later people living 
near the Table Bay waterfront were 
staggered when they saw the water rise 
four feet in ten minutes, only to fall again 
suddenly. This event was repeated fifteen 
minutes later. It was due to an upheaval of 
the ocean bed, where many of the world' s 
earthquakes originate. People wrote to the 

newspapers recalling that a similar 
phenomenon had occurred a quarter of a 
century earlier; and on that occasion so 
many fish were flung on shore that 
convicts working at the Amsterdam 
Battery had to spend all their time 
collecting and burying fish. 

Shortly before midnight on May 10, 1885 
there was a severe earthquake shock in 
Cape Town. A ship loaded with 
gunpowder was at anchor in Table Bay, 
and many people thought she had blown 
up. Caledon, Paarl and Wellington were 
all shaken. 

Port Shepstone, which lies in the mild 
danger area of South Africa, experienced 
a 'quake in 1894 which destroyed the 
German Lutheran Church. About a year 
later there was a mild shock in Durban, 
and one amusing sidelight is on record. 
Hundreds of people living on the Berea 
looked under their beds, imagining that 
the movement had been caused by an 

It may have been pure coincidence, but 
the whole of Namaqualand felt a severe 
earthquake on the very day, December 28, 
1908, that the seaport of Messina in Sicily 
was destroyed. Nearly one hundred 
thousand people died in Sicily that day; 
forty villages were wiped out; within 
seven thousand square miles few 
buildings remained standing. Certainly a 
major catastrophe, force twelve on the 
scale. But I doubt whether it reached more 
than force five in Namaqualand, the point 
where most sleepers are aroused, loose 
objects fall over, and furniture moves. 

One of the heaviest earth tremors ever 
recorded in the Union occurred on 
February 20, 1912, and every part of the 
country felt it. Scientists were not as 
skilled in tracing origins of shocks as they 
are today, but the astronomers thought the 
"epicentre" was somewhere in the 
Kalahari. Later they decided it was at 
Koffiefontein, O.F.S., where the damage 
was greatest. (All the buildings on the 

farm Steenkraal were razed.) Buildings 
cracked at Vryburg, Kimberley rocked. 
Thousands of tons of loose ground round 
the Kimberley mine fell into the crater, 
raising alarming clouds of dust. 
Watercourses in the district were diverted, 
some springs dried up, and a few loosely - 
built farmhouses collapsed. Mr. H. E. 
Wood, the astronomer, watched his 
seismographs in Johannesburg and saw 
the pin of one instrument jerked out of 
place by the violence of the shock. "The 
tremor went on so long that I could hardly 
realise that it was an earthquake," Mr. 
Wood declared. "It was outside my 
experience of earthquakes. It seemed as 
though people were walking about over 
my head." 

Just over forty years ago the Union 
Government appointed a Witwatersrand 
Earth Tremors Committee composed of 
Mr. Robert Kotze, Mr. R. T. A. Innes (the 
Union Astronomer) and Mr. D. 
Wilkinson, a mining engineer. The object 

was to discover the cause of the shocks 
which had been causing some alarm on 
the Rand for the past seven or eight years. 
Some people imagined that the earth 
would open and swallow them up. Many 
jerry-built houses had been damaged. In 
one district where tremors often occurred, 
people had packed up and left. 

The committee decided that "a sufficient 
and sole cause" of these shocks lay in the 
mining that had taken place. They were 
not proper earthquakes, but man-made 
tremors. Pillars were left in old workings, 
and when these collapsed the tremors 
were felt. Nowadays the mines fill in with 
sand, or some other more effective 

Johannesburg still notices hundreds of 
these shocks every year, but only the 
newcomer bothers about them. Flat- 
dwellers living high up in the centre of the 
city often say that they feel the buildings 
"swaying" in a tremor. Imagination, 
however, plays a part here. Though a 

heavy tremor may be unpleasant while it 
lasts, the experts agree that there is no 
danger of the damage which follows a real 

Tremor freaks do sometimes occur along 
the Rand. I heard of a man who was 
trapped in the bathroom of an eighth floor 
flat until a locksmith released him. 
Window panes break, lamps splinter and 
deep cracks appear in gardens. During a 
very severe tremor in 1944, hundreds of 
plate-glass shop-windows were shattered 
and a chimney-stack fell. 

I told you to keep out of Zululand if you 
dislike earthquakes. And indeed the 
'quake that occurred there on the last day 
of 1932 must have remained as a 
disturbing memory in the minds of all 
who went through the full shock. Two 
government geologists, Dr. L. J. Krige 
and Dr. F. A. Venter, were sent to 
Zululand to study the effects, and so there 
is a reliable report of the phenomenon. 
The epicentre, as I said, was on the sea- 

floor; the geologists fixed it twenty-five 
miles to the east of Cape St. Lucia. A total 
area of about three hundred thousand 
square miles was shaken. Johannesburg 
felt it distinctly three hundred miles away, 
and it was also observed at Koster in the 
Western Transvaal. On the coast, the 
effects were noted all the way from Port 
Shepstone to the Portuguese border. 

No doubt there would have been more 
serious damage, and possibly loss of life, 
if the St. Lucia area had been densely 
populated. As it was, the lonely coastal 
dunes seemed to have absorbed most of 
the shock and protected the few isolated 
people living near the shore. This was the 
"ninth degree" area, but all that happened 
along the remote and rocky seashore was 
the disturbance of pebbles. Black muddy 
fountains were seen at certain points near 
the shore, with lumps of black clay 
shooting into the air; and there was a 
sound like underground thunder. 

On the dunes nearly four hundred feet 
above sea level stood the iron tower of the 
Cape St. Lucia lighthouse. One keeper, 
Murphy, appointed when it was built in 
1905, served there continuously, apart 
from spells of leave, for nearly thirty 
years. At the time of the earthquake the 
only means of transport to the lighthouse 
was the ox-wagon. It is wild country, 
where hippos still send their deep, 
booming calls over the lagoons, and 
crocodiles lurk in the marshes. 

Murphy made the lighthouse garden the 
prettiest along the whole coast, a replica 
of an old English coastguard station. 
Among the Zulus he gained a tremendous 
reputation both as a judge in disputes and 
as a doctor. But it was a quiet life for 
Murphy and his wife, and the earthquake 
must have formed the most sensational 
incident of his long career. 

When the earthquake came the tower 
shook violently, gas cylinders were 
pitched from their casings and began 

leaking, lamp and lenses were thrown out 
of position, and all the mechanism 
stopped. Tools fell from benches and 
tables, water-tanks were damaged, long 
fissures appeared in the earth. Murphy 
had all day to repair the damage, but he 
was hampered by further shocks. Often he 
thought the iron tower would not stand the 
strain. Nevertheless, when evening came 
the St. Lucia light was burning bravely. 

Murphy's wooden frame-house stood half 
a mile from the shore. Mrs. Murphy 
reported that the shock had thrown her off 
the sofa, and that all the crockery was 
smashed. Otherwise their home was safe, 
cushioned by the thick buffer of sand. 

Elsewhere in Zululand white people were 
frightened and natives were sure that the 
end of the world had come. One fissure in 
the earth ran for two miles, cracked a 
railway embankment near Mtubatuba, and 
derailed a train. At a sugar mill near the 
Umfolosi river columns of water like 
geysers shot into the air. Many walls were 

cracked and some houses had to be 
abandoned. Water in the Nyalazi river 
seemed to be boiling. Trees and shrubs 
bent for three minutes as though they 
were feeling the force of a hurricane. 
Goods fell from the shelves of stores. 
Water tanks burst. 

The motor vessel Gujarat, which was 
passing the Tugela river mouth at the time 
of the 'quake, shook violently for two 
minutes. Her master reported that the sea 
appeared to be trembling. Ships in Durban 
harbour also felt the shock and strained at 
their moorings. 

Church bells tolled in Greytown though 
no one touched the ropes. Clocks stopped, 
lamps and birdcages swung, tiles were 
shaken loose, stationary motor-cars and 
railway trucks rocked on their wheels. 
Pumpkins rolled off roofs. Every house in 
Vryheid rattled, but the men working in 
the coal-mine were unaware that anything 
had happened. Earthquake shocks are 
always weaker underground. 

Machadodorp in the Eastern Transvaal 
has a hot radio-active sulphur spring. 
During the 'quake the flow of water 
increased and the temperature rose. The 
ground heaved at Newcastle in Natal, 
while pictures fell from the walls in 

When the authorities in the Union 
compared notes afterwards with foreign 
observatories they found that the Zululand 
earthquake had been recorded as far away 
as Finland and California. In other words, 
half the earth's surface had been affected. 
Ever since that experience people in 
Zululand have been advised to build with 
strong bricks and mortar. Moreover, they 
have been warned that earthquakes must 
be expected from time to time; and as 
high buildings are dangerous in 
earthquake zones, houses of one storey 
are recommended. 

Experts believe that the eastern half of the 
Union appears to be more liable to 
earthquake shocks than the western. On 

the other hand there are few observers in 
the sparsely-populated areas, and so the 
opinion may have to be revised. 
Namaqualand, as I have said, has known 
the earthquake feeling. Prieska shook in 
1943, and people reported a loud rumble 
in the air as though an express train was 
thundering over the mountains. There is a 
classic geological fault at Worcester, so 
that tremors are felt there occasionally. 

Earthquakes and volcanoes work together, 
companions of catastrophe. Fortunately 
all South Africa's volcanoes are extinct. 
There is a prehistoric volcano at Thaba 
Nchu in the Orange Free State; volcanic 
ash and petrified lava are to be found all 
over the mountain. Parts of South West 
Africa, too, are clearly volcanic. 
Indications have been found at Brukkaros 
in the south, Windhoek and Walvis Bay. 
Natives of the Herero race give each year 
a name, not a number, according to 
dramatic events and personalities. Long 
ago these names were recorded. Hereros 

referred to the year 1843 as "the year of 
the rushing sound", and this is believed to 
have been the roar of an earthquake. 

South West Africa's "earthquake man" is 
Mr. E. Zelle, a scientist I always visit 
when I am in Windhoek. (He is in charge 
of the museum now, and a more interest- 
ing lecturer on the country, its people and 
animals you could not wish to meet.) Mr. 
Zelle kept earthquake records from 1911 
to 1938. There were more than two 
hundred tremors during that period, most 
of them weak. "Seismicity", as it is called, 
occurs mainly in the escarpment region, 
the belt of activity running through 
Windhoek from north to south. The coast, 
and the Kalahari region in the east, seem 
to be almost immune from shocks. 

South Africa's most violent earthquakes 
and volcanic eruptions occurred millions 
of years ago, before even the types of 
animals with which we are familiar had 
evolved. Far down in the earth carbon was 
crystallised and forced to the surface. 

Thus the diamonds were formed. South 
Africa is now too solid to yield to these 
convulsions. Our immunity from 
dangerous 'quakes is due to the stability 
given by a granite basement. 

Let me add that I have studied many 
earthquake reports without finding a 
parallel to a personal experience of a 
tremor in Cairo. When this mild 'quake 
occurred I was in my bathroom at the 
Continental-Savoy Hotel, and an electric 
chandelier on a chain began swinging 
overhead. I could not account for it, and 
imagined that I was suffering from a 
fainting attack. As I am not liable to such 
attacks, and as I remained conscious, I 
looked for some other reason and decided 
it must be an earthquake. The newspaper 
that evening confirmed my guess. 

I cannot understand the mentality of 
people who spend their lives in zones of 
catastrophic earthquakes, and I never wish 
to find myself in anything more serious 
than I felt in that Cairo bathroom. 

Chapter 15 
Rumours Never Die 

The flying rumours gather 'd as they 

Scarce any tale was sooner heard than 

And all who told it added something 

And all who heard it made enlarge- 
ments too. 

Pope. "The Temple of Fame." 

NO RUMOUR is so incredible that some 
people will not believe it. As a journalist I 
had to follow many a rumour, sometimes 
discovering that "where there is smoke 
there is fire". I do not know whether 
South Africa is a land peculiarly inclined 

to listen eagerly to rumour; but certainly 
there have been memorable rumours. 

How do rumours start? Why are human 
beings so anxious to pass on and discuss 
rumours? I can still remember the 
dramatic rumours of World War I, when 
Cape Town seethed with stories of the 
German aeroplane that had been "seen" 
over the city at night, and the spies who 
had landed at Cape Point from a German 

Seldom is a rumour entirely fantastic. 
Those rumours I have mentioned were 
possible, if not probable. They happened 
to be untrue. People still write to the 
newspapers quoting the rumours of long 
ago and asking whether the facts have 
been established. Some rumours never 
die. Certain rumours, like the great 
mysteries of crime, demand an 
explanation. If none comes, it is like a 
detective novel with the last chapter 
missing. And the fog of war leaves hidden 

the scraps of truth in many a fascinating 

Comparatively few people are strong 
enough to resist the impulse to pass on a 
rumour. This impulse exists in ordinary 
times, when you have interesting pieces of 
confidential news or a good story to tell. 
In war-time the impulse often becomes 
over powering. You may find yourself 
spreading the rumour not only among 
friends but among strangers. But you 
simply must share it. 

This is explained by the fact that reserve 
breaks down in times of crisis. 
Camaraderie increases far above normal. 
The common interest or danger draws 
people together, and all find relief in the 
discussion of the situation which involves 
them all. No wonder war-time rumours 
move rapidly. 

The actual basis of the desire to pass on 
the rumour is held by some psychologists 
to be due to the desire to assert one's 

superiority by revealing information of 
which the other person is ignorant. Other 
authorities say that rumour-mongering 
merely reveals the desire to be equal, to 
share in the excitement all are feeling. 

Rumours find unhesitating acceptance 
only with people without critical faculties. 
The educated man will be cynical, or 
slightly cheered, or uneasy as a result of a 
rumour. He will not believe it before he 
has devised some sort of test. The frame 
of mind is negative, somewhere between 
belief (which leads to action) and positive 
disbelief. Here is a wide field of research 
for the "mass observation" experts. 

Rumours, false or true, are more often 
depressing than cheerful. If there is 
definite reason to expect good news, of 
course, then an encouraging rumour may 
arise. But it is natural that something 
which so often has its origin in fear and 
ignorance should become an alarming 

Humanity dislikes suspense. Everyone 
tries to peer into the future, seeking easy 
explanations of riddles yet unsolved. If 
you have a burning question which lacks 
an answer, someone is bound to invent the 
answer - that mysterious rumour which 
causes more eager discussion than the 

India probably circulates more rumours 
than any other country in the world. The 
"bazaar rumour" of India takes its place in 
the country's news services. It cannot be 
ignored, for millions are chattering about 
it. Solid and reliable newspapers like the 
Calcutta "Statesman" print "bazaar 
rumours" for what they are worth. I was 
surprised to find this procedure, and I 
asked a member of the "Statesman" staff 
for the reason. "Bazaar rumours 
sometimes prove correct, and contain 
news well ahead of the official tele- 
grams," was the reply. "It has been found 
impossible to trace the origins of bazaar 

While I was in Calcutta in 1936 I saw the 
"bazaar rumour" at work, a striking 
example. I was strolling down the 
crowded Chowringhee when a newsboy 
offered my companion an evening 
newspaper. This was a thin and 
wretchedly edited native sheet, regarded 
by the white people as poor value for 
money. My careful companion glanced 
first at the Stop Press column, then 
rejected the newspaper in disgust. "A 
bazaar rumour states that King Edward 
VIII is about to abdicate," he informed 
me. "I am not going to pay one anna for 
rubbish like that." Several days later came 
the first published news of the events 
leading up to the abdication. The bazaars 
were right that time. 

Wars, earthquakes and other disasters are 
responsible for the most numerous and the 
most widespread rumours. The rumour 
must have "group interest" before it can 
spread. The mere process of spreading is 
bound to cause distortion, so that one 

looks for a grain of truth rather than 
complete verification of a sensational 

Before the days of the cable, Cape Town 
stood to arms again and again when 
hostile fleets were reported to be 
approaching Table Bay to bombard the 
town. Signal guns were fired from the 
Castle, passed on by the Tygerberg 
cannon to Stellenbosch and Paarl. Burgher 
commandos saddled and rode for Cape 
Town to reinforce the defenders. 

Not long ago I was offered a copy of a 
proclamation Major General David Baird 
issued as Acting Governor shortly after 
the Second British Occupation of the 
Cape. (I collect rumours, but £15 for a 
single sheet printed at the Castle in 1806 
was too much for me.) Baird pointed out 
that some "ill-advised and malicious 
persons" had spread false reports about 
the arrival of an enemy fleet. One man 
had not only repeated the rumour in 
Baird' s presence, but had stated that he 

had seen the hostile fleet at Saldanha Bay 
and had spoken to some of the officers. 

Baird warned the public that in future 
anyone convicted of spreading or 
repeating false rumours would suffer 
death, or such other punishment as the 
general court martial might award. And he 
added: "Cornells Maas, the person who in 
such a wanton and wicked manner gave 
the false information above mentioned, is 
to be flogged round the town in the most 
public and exemplary manner, tomorrow 
at noon, by the common executioner, and 
will afterwards be transported out of the 

I knew a police officer in South West 
Africa in the nineteen-twenties who was 
given the task of tracing rumours of a 
serious rebellion among the Hereros. 
Magistrates had reported that their 
districts in the north were seething with 

The officer first interviewed the district 
surgeon of Otjiwarongo, a German doctor 
who had been through the Herero war 
early in the century. The doctor stated that 
he knew all the signs, and that the Hereros 
were on the point of rising. Farther north, 
in Outjo, the farmers had gathered in the 
village and were demanding troops and 
military aircraft. Many white families 
were on the road, making for centres 
where they would find some protection. 
But no one could give the officer definite 

At last the officer found an old English 
woman, member of a well-known family, 
living in poverty on a lonely farm. She 
gave him information which led to the 
heart of the matter. It came out that a 
German, who had a native mistress, had 
deserted her and gone to Angola, leaving 
a destitute family. The embittered woman 
made all sorts of threats, and sent a 
messenger to the German telling him to 
return at once or he would be killed by her 

relatives. Some white farmer heard of this, 
and cross-examined the messenger. This 
native, possibly to save his face, or for 
some other reason of his own, declared 
that the Hereros were planning a revolt. 
The farmers immediately sent a runner to 
the nearest magistrate with a warning. 
Very soon the whole northern territory 
was in a state of alarm. Fortunately the 
government held its hand, the police 
officer exploded the rumour, and within a 
few days everything was normal. 

Psychologists declare that the most 
promising field in which to spread a 
rumour is one in which the population is 
suffering from fear. It is easy to 
understand the feelings of people living in 
isolation on a frontier, among natives who 
have, within living memory, attacked and 
massacred the white settlers. But it is far 
more remarkable to discover a similar 
panic in the old, settled, peaceful Cape 
districts of a century ago. 

According to rumours in the platteland in 
1851, the coloured people had organised a 
rebellion. On a certain day all the white 
males in the country would be killed. So 
persistent were the rumours that the 
government offered a reward of one 
thousand pounds for information which 
would secure the conviction of the leaders 
of the conspiracy. Moreover, an official 
commission was sent into the country to 
investigate the alarming reports which 
magistrates and others were sending to 
Cape Town. 

Even in D' Urban village (now 
Durbanville), only a few hours from Cape 
Town by post-coach, the tension was so 
great that most of the white families slept 
in one house every night while the men 
went out on patrol. Farther away from 
town the precautions were more stringent. 
About two hundred people assembled in 
an armed camp on the farm of Field 
Cornet Lochner in the Malmesbury 
district. Every farmer carried a gun. 

Wellington residents cloaked their 
defence measures by arranging a "raffle" 
for clothing; but the competitors had to 
bring their rifles and shoot for the prizes. 
It was said that the convicts at work on 
Bain's Kloof were to be released to take 
part in the revolution, and so Wellington 
made feverish preparations. The rumours 
spread as far afield as Riversdale in the 
east and Clanwilliam and the Hantam in 
the north. Everywhere the farmers laid in 
stocks of gunpowder and bullets. 

Some farmers dismissed their coloured 
labourers in the midst of the harvest and 
engaged armed white men at higher 
wages. Many families abandoned their 
farm homesteads at night and camped in a 
different part of the farm so that they 
could not be located easily on the night of 
the rising. Various dates were given for 
the massacre. Some said there would be a 
simultaneous attack during the harvest, 
when the largest numbers of coloured 
people were at work on the farms. Others 

believed the crisis would come on 
December 1, anniversary of the abolition 
of slavery. Finally there were many who 
feared bloodshed on Christmas Day. 

Thus magistrates in the affected areas 
received one deputation after another, and 
every field cornet wrote in with alarming 
rumours. It was suggested in Worcester 
that a census should be taken of all 
faithful men, white and coloured, over the 
age of sixteen and able to carry arms, and 
that all suitable riding horses, saddles, 
bridles, guns and ammunition should be 
listed. A house to house search of the 
whole coloured population was another 
scheme put forward. 

Among the coloured people there was also 
a strong sense of impending danger. They 
were influenced by a rumour that a 
deputation of farmers had gone to Cape 
Town to appeal for the restoration of 
slavery. Not many coloured men owned 
firearms, but large numbers lashed their 
scythe blades to poles. 

Anxiety in Cape Town may be gauged 
from a speech made by the Attorney 
General at a Legislative Council meeting 
on November 10 that year. "I do not think 
I am in much danger sitting in the shadow 
of Table Mountain, and I am ready to take 
my chance," announced the Attorney 
General. "Nevertheless, I should incur a 
grave moral responsibility if I did 
anything to influence the ignorant 
coloured people, or lead a frightened or 
irritated farmer to shoot someone dead. 
The first shot must be followed by a 
thousand others." 

This was the period of the Eighth Kaffir 
War (1850-53), when large numbers of 
Hottentots in the Eastern Province joined 
the Kaffirs against the British forces. 
Hottentot levies were employed by the 
British, and the first of these troops were 
returning to the Western Province and 
Clanwilliam late in 1851, their term of 
service having expired. No doubt these 
men contributed towards the general 

uneasiness. Freed from discipline, elated 
by their military achievements, and with 
money to spend in the canteens, the 
Hottentot ex-soldiers caused disturbances 
as they passed through the countryside 
bound for their homes. 

It was said that the rebellious Hottentots 
on the frontier had approached the men of 
their own race in British uniform and had 
tried to seduce them. The idea had been 
sown that the Hottentots were an 
oppressed race, inheritors of the soil yet 
owning no land. Such was the drunken 
gossip of the coloured canteens, and it 
served to strengthen the rumours. Small 
wonder an atmosphere of suspicion and 
jealousy was created. "The farmers have a 
smouldering fear of the coloured classes," 
ran one official report. "Among the 
coloured people there is a universal desire 
to recover their land. They also suspect a 
revival of slavery or that they will be 
oppressed by vagrant laws." 

Vagrancy had become a menace in parts 
of the Cape Colony at that time, and the 
government was preparing to take steps 
against squatters on Crown land. These 
people, some white, mainly coloured, 
lived in the mountains and other 
inaccessible places. Mr. Matthew Blake, a 
Caledon farmer, reported that while 
travelling in the Onder Bokkeveld he had 
encountered six hundred coloured 
squatters. Many were bad characters, 
living by stock theft. Mr. Charles Piers, 
the Tulbagh magistrate, visited the Koue 
Bokkeveld, finding many white and 
coloured people on Crown land without 
title. They lived in filth, under rocks and 
in huts of sugar bush. He discovered one 
or two lepers among them. Few worked 
on farms. Many stole sheep. "I do not 
think I ever saw a country which 
presented greater facilities for the 
concealment of thieves and their spoil," 
summed up Mr. Piers. 

It looked like an explosive situation - 
robbers in the mountains ready to join the 
rebellious coloured people on the plains. 
No doubt the three magistrates acting as 
members of the official commission must 
have wondered what they would find 
when they set off by Cape cart into the 
tense platteland. 

Fifteen days later they drove back to Cape 
Town and reported that all rumours were 
groundless. They had taken evidence at 
D'Urban village, Malmesbury, Worcester, 
Groene Kloof, Tulbagh, Wellington, Paarl 
and Stellenbosch. Everywhere they had 
found a state of alarm. Nowhere were 
there signs of conspiracy to murder the 
whites, and the commission reported that 
"no such intention exists". 

Of course they heard disturbing stories 
everywhere. Many conversations, said to 
have been overheard among the coloured 
people, had been recorded. Loyal servants 
had given vague warnings. For example, 
Sampie, a coloured cook, had told her 

mistress, Mrs. H. C. van Niekerk : "I have 
something on my mind, a great heaviness 
which I cannot utter. I may not tell it, but 
mistress will see within a short time, when 
the early crops are in and the hay is in 
stock. I am very sorry for master and 
mistress and also those poor children." 

Another rumour indicated that all the 
heads of the white people would be cut 
off. It was said that the massacre would be 
carried out while the white people were 
attending the Christmas Day services. 
Cobus, a Hottentot of Groene Kloof, gave 
an earlier date and was reported to have 
declared: "In eight days time I will be 

On the other hand the Rev. G. W. 
Stegmann, a missionary, informed the 
commission that the coloured people in 
his area had not a gun among them which 
would kill anything larger than a mole. He 
scoffed at the talk of a revolt. 

In the end the commission pinned down 
one man who had done more than anyone 
else to spread the rumours and bring about 
this near-crisis. He was Mr. Adriaan 
Johannes Louw of the farm Adderley to 
the north of Durbanville, an influential 
man who had served as field cornet and 
justice of the Peace. Louw was an 
enterprising farmer, the first in the district 
to set up a windmill. When he addressed 
circulars to magistrates and friends in his 
own and other districts, great weight was 
attached to his words. 

On October 24, 1851, Louw sent the 
following circular round the countryside: 
"Dear Fellow Burghers, I wish you to bear 
in mind and be on your guard respecting a 
rumour which is in circulation, and of 
which I have been informed by three 
different persons - that the black classes 
wish to exterminate the male white 
classes, and that this will take place in the 
next harvest, when on each farm there will 
be many blacks. Keep this secret from the 

blacks and the lower classes of whites. 
They know that in Cape Town there is not 
a single soldier or dragoon and that they 
now stand a good chance. At St. 
Domingo, a French colony, all the whites 
were in one night extirpated by the blacks. 
In future they will contrive it more 
cleverly, and in the evening or during the 
night commence at every place at the 
same time, falling upon every male 
unexpectedly when at their meals; or they 
speak of doing it at the full moon or 
Christmas or New Year ... You must 
therefore arm yourselves well and let a 
white person keep guard in the evening 
and during the night at every place. Take 
all guns and assegais from your people in 
the harvest-time. We are surrounded by 
enemies as bad as the Kaffirs ... People 
must not be allowed to fire shots, as usual, 
when the grain has been cut down. But 
whenever anything breaks out on any 
place, loud shots must be fired by the 
owners, which must be continued from 

place to place, and everyone must collect 
in the neighbourhood of my residence 
with his family, to overcome the enemy 
and stop the evil at once. Please to send 
this with the greatest haste from place to 

Louw was pitiable under cross- 
examination by members of the 
commission, "a mixture of self- 
importance and imbecility", according to 
their report. They summed up: "Mr. A. J. 
Louw was the chief propagator of the 
whole alarm by mischievous circulars 
addressed to the neighbouring farmers. He 
is a worthy member of society, but so 
excited that it appeared to affect his 

So the commission found that all the 
rumours were groundless. Panic gave way 
to a deep peace. Adriaan Louw lived on at 
Adderley, no doubt deprecating any 
reference to the strange interlude of unrest 
which he had started. He died in 1874, 

and his tomb stands in the graveyard on 
the farm. 

Chapter 16 

The People And The Trees 

EVERY TOWN, almost every village in 
South Africa has a tree with a story, often 
trees with traditions. Almost everyone has 
memories of remarkable trees and forests, 
and the people of the forests. 

It would be hard to find many of the old 
type of bearded woodcutter in the Knysna 
forests today. They are dying out, and a 
way of life which was not altogether 
desirable is vanishing, too. Backward the 
old men were; yet they could perform 

feats with the axe which the younger 
generation would not dare to attempt. One 
thirsty, barefooted takhaar, I remember, 
would hold a match between his toes and 
bring his axe down with such precision 
and restraint that he would split the match 
without touching his own flesh. He gave 
this memorable show outside the bars of 
Knysna village in the certainty that 
appreciative onlookers would slake his 
thirst. I am glad to say that he never raised 
his axe after raising his glass. 

Those old woodcutters lived so deep in 
the green silence that they formed a race 
apart, probably the most isolated white 
people in South Africa. I was assured that 
some of the grown men and women had 
never seen a village, while there were 
children who knew only the faces of their 
parents and their too numerous brothers 
and sisters. 

Last century these strange folk dressed in 
skins and lived in skerms with only three 
walls. The old men I met, with their long 

beards, were like Rip Van Winkles in a 
modern world. Progress had hardly 
touched these isolated characters. I 
thought of them as a tragic race apart; 
people living so far from civilisation that 
they had no chance of rising above their 
environment. A friendly, generous people 
struggling for their mere food in one of 
the hardest trades in the world. But so 
primitive that it was found almost 
impossible to help them. 

Of English, Scottish and Afrikaner 
descent were these men of the axe. For 
more than a century they brought the 
enormous stinkwood and yellowwood 
trees crashing down; felling, squaring, 
sawing in those hot, moist, sunless 
backwoods. They were paid by results, 
and they showed themselves no mercy as 
they hacked out their livelihood from the 
ancient trees. Seldom were they well- 
nourished; yet they were capable of 
enormous labour. 

Progress had hardly touched these isolated 

charaters ... a friendly, generous people 
struggling for their mere food in one of the 
hardest trades in the world. 

For them the call of the woods was 
irresistible. They went out first as little 
boys, carrying water for the working 
parties, robbing wild hives, shooting 
bush-doves, making fires for the coffee. 
Small wonder that they could not be kept 
at school for long. As soon as they had 
reached their 'teens they were ready to 
sweat over the huge, felled tree-trunks 
with axe and saw. The woodcutter could 
see no farther than the dense wall of his 
forests, no other future for his children. 
Year after year the number of trees 
allotted to woodcutters in the Government 
reserve was reduced. But in the mind of 
the woodcutter there was no threat to his 
existence, no plain warning. 

The foreman on a private forest estate told 
me that he once took a middle-aged 
woodcutter with him on a hunting 
expedition to the open veld near George, 
fifty miles away. They travelled by motor- 
car, and the woodcutter was astounded. "I 

never thought Africa was so large," he 

There is a pathetic story, too, of a 
woodcutter who went mad, ran amuck 
with his axe, and killed a coloured boy. 
He was sent to an asylum in Cape Town. 
At the end of three years, during a period 
of sanity, he escaped and trudged back 
towards his beloved forests. He had no 
map, no knowledge of the road, nothing 
but a strong, sure instinct, like a homing 
pigeon. Fearing detection, he marched at 
night, avoiding villages, taking a route 
that lay along mountain slopes. For more 
than three hundred miles he stumbled on, 
coming at last to the lonely shack where 
dwelt his wife and children. One night he 
spent with them; then he was found and 
taken back. "Sentence me to years of 
imprisonment if you like," he pleaded, 
"but let me know that one day I can come 
home." Such is the spell of the forests. 
Men bred in cities feel as though they 
were facing a sinister and mysterious 

presence when they step out of the 
sunlight into that mass of creepers, ferns 
and trees. They would lose themselves in 
five minutes after leaving a path. The 
woodcutters find their way by sun and 
stars, and never lose their keen sense of 
direction. But early this century a 
woodcutter's child disappeared in the 
forests. There was a great search, and 
undoubtedly the child would have been 
found but for the sudden rain that washed 
away all track an trace of the poor, 
frightened thing. All trace obliterated for 
ever - except a hat, which they took back 
to the mother ... 

The talk when woodcutters gathered was 
usually of accidents. There was the man 
whose legs were pinned down by the tree 
he had just felled, the only miscalculation 
of that kind on record. When found, he 
had worn his fingers almost to the bone in 
his efforts to dig away the earth beneath 

Planks arrived at the Knysna factories 
looking as though they had been planed 
by machinery; twenty-feet long, without a 
deviation of one thirty-second of an inch, 
all done by axe and saw. Yet most of 
these old craftsmen were earning from 
two to five pounds a month. When I 
visited the woodcutters a quarter of a 
century ago it was possible for a 
woodcutter in a private forest, with the 
help of two young sons, to make eighteen 
shillings a day clear profit. But such 
earnings could not be maintained for long. 
Rain and illness, usually through over- 
exertion, brought the average income 
down to a small figure. 

The little body of men licensed to fell 
trees in the Government forests numbered 
about three hundred at that time. No new 
names had been added to the roll of 
registered woodcutters for many years, so 
that one old type has died out. 

Each year the trees, to be sold were 
numbered by Forest Department officials, 

the woodcutters inspected them, drew lots 
for the trees, and gathered at different 
forest stations for the allotment. They had 
to pay for the trees, of course, and there 
was an element of chance in the business 
which appealed mightily to the old men. If 
all their trees were perfect they secured 
good prices. But there was always the risk 
of rot, bad heart and poor colour, and 
sometimes it was difficult to persuade the 
forester that a tree was defective enough 
to justify a refund of the purchase price. 

Old woodcutters, however, claimed that 
they could look at a stinkwood tree and 
tell at once whether the wood possessed 
that typical dark colour which was so 
desirable. The demand for stinkwood 
furniture, of course, is comparatively 
recent. Thousands of tons of it went in 

Many of the woodcutters could not read, 
write or count; but they knew to the 
nearest penny how much was due to them 
for their work. Like the alluvial diamond 

diggers, their output was often pledged far 
in advance to their storekeepers. They 
were improvident, but they disliked being 
in debt. It was a tribute to their honesty, as 
a class, that they were allowed to buy 
necessities for months on end when, 
through illness, they were unable to pay. 
One man owed a hundred pounds at the 
end of a long illness. He paid back every 
penny within a year, and had something 
over; but prodigious amounts of sawdust 
and sweat went towards the repayment of 
that debt. 

They could have improved their standard 
of living by growing some of their own 
food; but they were never content to till 
the soil for long. During slack times some 
of them worked as farm labourers. Then, 
just at a time when they were most 
needed, they would hurry back to the 
forest life. 

There were far too many boy and girl 
marriages in the forests. Youths of twenty, 
who had saved enough money to buy 

axes, considered that they were set up for 
life. Another crazy shack of poles, boards 
and galvanized iron appeared on someone 
else's land. The young man took a girl of 
fourteen or fifteen as a wife. And another 
huge family was raised. 

With all their faults and follies, the 
woodcutters were, in the main, sober and 
law-abiding. The police often had to stop 
the brewing of bee wine, a devastating 
spirit made from wild honey and yeast. At 
New Year, the chief festival of the forests, 
the woodcutters sent for barrels of wine 
and played their guitars and concertinas. 
For the rest of the year they worked. Meat 
was a luxury to be enjoyed, at most, once 
a week. I visited one of their stores in the 
main forest and saw displayed the simple 
things they bought. Meal, coffee, sugar 
and tobacco; those were the most 
important items in the woodcutter's daily 
life. Sardines and bully beef were not 
bought every day. Old Dutch medicines 
were there, of course, for emergencies. 

And rows of field boots and blankets and 
tools, expensive articles to be stared at 
wistfully and purchased only after deep 

It is estimated that the Knysna yellow- 
wood tree takes two thousand years to 
grow. And the old woodcutters were men 
of earlier centuries, like the trees. 

Once there was a fire in these forests that 
terrified man and beast. It was the fire that 
swept from Swellendam to Uitenhage in 
1869, the greatest fire known in South 
Africa since the white man came. If there 
is anyone still living who remembers that 
fire clearly, then he must be almost a 
centenarian. But I met several old people 
in Knysna years ago who talked about the 
great fire as the most vivid event of their 

That fire raged along a course of four 
hundred miles, and spread out in some 
places over a front of more than a hundred 
miles. It is hard to say where or how it 

started, and one newspaper reported: 
"From Uitenhage to Riversdale the 
country appears to have burst 
simultaneously into a blaze. The glorious 
forest of Knysna is destroyed." After a 
careful study of the records, however, I 
think that Uitenhage saw the opening of 
this catastrophe. 

It was on February 9, 1869 that the people 
of Uitenhage awoke to a misty dawn. This 
was followed by the hottest wind they had 
ever known, a north-east wind like a 
flame, a wind that put a stop to every sort 
of work and drove the bewildered people 
indoors. At noon the shade temperatures 
was one hundred and twelve degrees. It 
was difficult to breathe. Late that 
afternoon the wind was blowing from the 
south-west at hurricane force. 

They had seen a mass of smoke in the 
distance earlier in the afternoon. Now the 
sun was covered and it was difficult to 
find a way through the blinding smoke in 
the village. 

News reached Uitenhage that the farm of 
Captain Boys, the showplace of the 
district, had been destroyed with all the 
household treasures and a fine collection 
of old Dutch masters. Mrs. Boys and her 
four daughters had saved their lives by 
wrapping themselves in blankets and 
taking refuge in the river. Ashes 
smothered the Cape road for miles. 
Wagons and freight were burnt out. Many 
sheep were lost, while some escaped with 
the wool scorched close to their skins. 
This was a cruel day for the wild creatures 
of the forest, too, and buck were so tamed 
by fear that they crouched on stoeps in 
Uitenhage. The village itself escaped. 

Humansdorp appeared to be in great 
danger, and the church bell rang the 
alarm. The whole Tsitsikama forest as far 
as Cape St. Francis was ablaze, while the 
hills to the north of Humansdorp were 
also in flames. "It was like a prairie fire in 
America," wrote a Humansdorp resident. 
"Resinous odours filled the air and a 

hurricane carried smoke, fire and sparks. 
High overhead flew great sheets of flame. 
The sun was as red as fire, and more than 
one person thought that the final day of 
God's just retribution had arrived. The 
fire was two miles from the village when 
the wind veered to the north-west. We 
were surrounded by fire, yet not a house 
in Humansdorp was touched," 

There were forty-one deaths in the 
Humansdorp district, some people being 
burnt to death while others were killed by 
the heat. Grain crops which had been 
reaped and the ripening mealies and beans 
were lost. 

Knysna saw the frightening drama of the 
fire on the following day, which happened 
to be Ash Wednesday. Mr. B. H. Darnell, 
owner of the fine Westford property, 
recorded his experiences: "At dawn the 
berg wind, the sirocco of South Africa, 
was blowing steadily from the north. The 
temperature was a hundred degrees before 
eight in the morning, and at nine we saw a 

great fire raging in the flats above us. I 
knew it was all up with Westford. As the 
sole guardian of thirteen women and 
children I was distracted. Denser and 
denser grew the smoke and brighter the 
glare of the fire, while the thermometer 
rose higher and higher and the wind 
increased in violence. At first I could only 
hear the noise of the fire. Presently, above 
the smoke, I saw liquid fire pouring over 
cliffs, and below them, on the opposite 
bank of the river, great streams of fire." 

As the fire roared on, Darnell and the 
women and children found themselves 
literally at the mouth of a blow-pipe. They 
ran for the river and joined people who 
had found safety on the pontoon. There 
they were safe, but the fire had made a 
clean sweep of Westford. Houses, trees, 
gardens, orchards and forest had gone. 
"The labour and pleasure of sixteen years 
has been swept away in a few minutes," 
Darnell reported. "Books, pictures, furni- 
ture, plate, the memorials of a lifetime 

have gone. One might as well be on the 
barest Karoo place as on the banks of the 
Knysna. Nature can never restore the 
grand old trees, pride of the forest, some 
of them thirty feet in circumference." 

When the main fire had passed, Darnell 
walked along the river bank surveying the 
devastation. Not only buck, but elephants, 
had been roasted alive. He could find 
hardly a sign of life except a cunning old 
baboon which had avoided the fire and 
now crouched in the desolation. Mighty 
trees were still crashing in every direction, 
some hissing as they fell into the river. By 
a benevolent freak of the fire, all the 
villages in its path, including Knysna, 
escaped destruction. So close did the 
flames pass, however, that the heat in 
Knysna was intense. The toll in the 
districts was indeed heavy. 

In the Knysna area the Duthies of 
Belvidere had been burning the veld for 
grazing. This made a fire-path, and so the 
great blaze left their famous estate 

untouched. But the fine Portland farm 
owned by the Barringtons was almost 
entirely destroyed. Cottages and forest on 
Eastford (a glebe of the English church 
where the bishop lived) were burnt out. 
The Newdigates of Forest Hall lost two 
thousand acres of forest, but the house 
was saved by its iron roof. Dozens of 
small farmers lost their homes, stock and 
crops. The poor woodcutters, who had the 
least to lose, probably felt the effects of 
the fire more than anyone else, for they 
could not afford to replace their small 

Mr. Barnard of Buff els Vermaak, a 
neighbour of Darnell, made for the river 
when the fire became intense. He took a 
chest containing thousands of sovereigns 
and the family silver with him on a small 
cart. The fire came so close to where he 
had sought refuge that he and his family 
had to stand up to their necks in water to 
avoid catching alight. They saved their 

lives and their money, though the gold 
and silver melted in the chest. 

A schoolmaster on the flats above 
Phantom Pass, between Westford and 
Portland, was giving a Bible lesson when 
he noticed the fire in the distance. 
Suddenly a whirlwind appeared, black 
with smoke. The wind rose to a roar and 
whined its menace in the roof, shaking the 
whole building so that all knew it would 
collapse at any moment. The door had 
jammed, but the children and master 
scrambled through the window just in 
time. They could see the flames leaping 
from hilltop to hilltop, missing the homes 
and trees in the valleys. It was so dark at 
two in the afternoon that survivors had to 
light their lamps. 

One family stacked their furniture in the 
open and prepared to load it on to a 
wagon. The flames came before they 
could move off, taking the furniture and 
sparing the house. 

Snakes were observed writhing madly, 
with mouths open, in the effort to escape. 
Frightened birds flew into houses, and 
thousands of birds were smothered by the 
smoke. A man saw eight buck standing 
together and cooling their burnt feet in the 

A conversation between Newdigate and 
Barrington after the fire was recorded 
many years ago, and provides a valuable 
sidelight on the disaster and the 
philosophy of the victims. 

"You are a marvel to be so 'cheerful after 
what you have gone through," remarked 

Barrington replied: "I have much to thank 
God for. My dear wife and all my children 
are safe. We are pioneers in a new 
country, and I fear that I for one was 
selfish in wishing for earthly comfort. My 
children escaped by a miracle. A native 
boy helped to take the little children, one 
a baby in arms, to a piece of bare rock 

well above the forests. My home has 
gone, above all my valuable library is in 
ashes. I still have a few bottles of wine 
and a sack of meal, but my stores for the 
year have gone. I have already started to 
build again. After all, I have the land, the 
cattle, servants, wagons and sawmill - and 
my wife and children." People in Cape 
Town, with their traditional kindness, held 
a public meeting to raise money for the 
needy victims of the fire. Bread, clothes, 
bedding and food were rushed to the 
afflicted districts. Knysna held a day of 
thanksgiving and special church services 
on March 14. 

In the forests the fire still smouldered. The 
ashes were still warm in pits and caves six 
months after the inferno. And the origin of 
it all? Veld burning, the hand of man, the 
old curse of South Africa. 

In the Knysna forests, impressive though 
they are, I always feel that there is too 
much to see. No doubt that is why I prefer 

deserts to the lush country. The isolated 
tree makes a landmark. 

I was flying round the Pretoria 
countryside with Major "Duke" Meintjes 
in an old DH 9 long ago when Meintjes 
pointed out the Wonderboom. This is a 
tree to remember, a tree that became a 
forest. Very soon I drove out for eight 
miles, through the narrow break in the 
Magaliesberg called Voortrekker Nek, to 
explore this marvel at ground level. 

The Wonderboom is an evergreen wild fig 
tree which owes its world-wide fame 
among botanists to the extraordinary 
manner of its growth. It is about seventy- 
five feet high, a hemispherical mass with 
thirteen individual trunks which have 
sprung from the original central trunk. 
Many years ago the branches became too 
heavy and took root like strawberry plants 
for climbing shrubs. This process is all the 
more unusual when you consider that this 
particular fig tree (Ficus Pretoriae Burtt 
Davy) is more of a tropical growth, and 

The Wonderboom is an evergreen wild fig tree which owes its world-wide fame among botanists to 

the exraordinary manner of it growth 

Pretoria is almost its extreme southern 

Dr. I. B. Pole Evans, the botanist, 
described the Wonderboom as "the most 
remarkable example of its species in 
Africa and a national monument". Its age 
has been estimated at three centuries. The 
central mass of stem has a circumference 
of eighty-one feet, and the whole tree 
forms a canopy over an area large enough 
to shelter hundreds of people. 

Bushmen lived in a cave overlooking the 
Wonderboom centuries ago. There is a 
legend that when natives attacked the 
cave, the Bushmen escaped through a 
secret tunnel which penetrates the 
mountain. However, no trace of this old 
sanctuary has been found. 

Charles Zeyher the botanical collector 
seems to have missed the Wonderboom 
during his visit to the neighbourhood with 
Burke in the eighteen-forties. The first 
mention of the tree was made by a Swiss 

missionary named Creux in 1862, and his 
measurements show that the tree has 
grown little since then. 

A Natal trader named Menne was 
camping under the Wonderboom with his 
servants and cattle in the early days. Fires 
were blazing and the evening meal was 
being prepared. Into this pleasant scene 
rushed a black rhino. It stampeded the 
cattle, charged the servants, scattered the 
cooking pots and fires. Then, after staring 
at the disconcerted humans it broke out of 
the tree circle and departed. White and 
black rhino rubbed their hides against the 
Wonderboom in those days, but they will 
not be seen there again. 

In the wagon days the Wonderboom was a 
favourite outspan. Transport riders halted 
there. Close by is an old fort, built to 
protect the road to Pretoria from warlike 
natives. During one native campaign a 
whole commando with sixty wagons 
made its headquarters under the tree. 

Many a Dingaan's Day celebration has 
been held there. 

Dr. W. G. Atherstone, the geologist, who 
identified the first South African diamond, 
examined the Wonderboom in 1873 and 
carried away a twig. Since then almost 
every herbarium in the world has been 
supplied with branches. 

Lady Florence Dixie rode out to the 
Wonderboom a few years after 
Atherstone, accompanied by Sir Evelyn 
Wood, General Ballairs and Colonel 
Gildea. She commented in a book she 
wrote on the natural defensive strength of 
the position. "One of the principal sights 
which we were bent on seeing that day 
was the great Wonderboom, or wonderful 
tree. When we had threaded the Pass and 
skirted a reedy lake from which the cry of 
the wild duck arose, the tree, with its 
heavy mass of foliage, hove in sight, 
looking like some huge giant amidst the 
dwarf vegetation that surrounded it. 
Putting spurs to our horses, several of us 

raced to reach the spot first, which foolish 
exploit under a hot sun made both 
ourselves and our horses very hot, and 
rendered the dark, cool shade of the great 
tree doubly acceptable and refreshing. 
Examination proved it to be of an 
ambitious and progressive nature, the 
larger branches, as soon as they became 
developed, drooping earthwards until, 
taking root, fresh life springs forth from 
the younger scions of the old stem." 

An interesting water-colour of the 
Wonderboom in 1879 by Mrs. 
Archdeacon Roberts shows the loop 
connections from the main stem by which 
the tree propagated itself. These were 
chopped off by vandals this century, while 
the interior of the main trunk was burnt 

Further damage was caused as the result 
of the dreams of a woman prophet in 
Pretoria. She declared that a great hoard 
of gold lay buried near the roots, or in the 
huge trunk itself. The story became linked 

with the legend of the "Kruger millions", 
the boxes of gold which the President was 
supposed to have hidden when he was 
forced to leave the Transvaal. Dr. Leyds, 
who accompanied Kruger on that journey, 
made it absolutely clear that no republican 
gold was buried during that period. 
Treasure legends never die, in spite of 
contradictions. Many holes, some seven 
feet deep, were dug round the main stem, 
and the last remaining connections 
between the main trunk and the second 
and third outer circles of trunks were 

Across the Aapies River, but not far away, 
is the Klein Wonderboom of the same 
species. This is the home of many birds 
which enjoy the wild figs and other fruits 
of the area. There you may see starlings 
plum-coloured and green, sunbirds 
seeking their nectar, warblers and crested 
barbets, woodpeckers and doves, Dr. 
Austin Roberts identified two hundred 
distinct species in this neighbourhood. 

The whole area is now a nature reserve 
and bird sanctuary, a strong contrast 
indeed with the wild days of the oud- 
stryders and hunters. 

Another tree of adventure is the baobab. 
When I sleep under a baobab far from the 
cities I think of the creatures that roamed 
beneath that grotesque tree thousands of 
years ago. For the weird baobab is 
probably the oldest living tree, reaching 
five thousand years under favourable 

It belongs to the tropics, of course, and 
you find them all the way down Africa 
from Egypt to the Transvaal, always 
within sound of the "ping-ing-ing-zzz" of 
the mosquito. I camped under an 
enormous baobab in the far Kaokoveld 
once, and drank the acid, lemon-tasting 
beverage made from the seed capsules. As 
a remedy for malaria, however, I would 
prefer paludrine. The old explorers had to 

When I sleep under a baobab far from the cities I think of the creatures that roamed beneath that 

grotesque tree thousands of years ago. 

use what they could find. Natives make 
an alcoholic drink from these seeds, the 
"Laughing Spirits" of many a night of 
revelry. Monkeys also love the fruit, and 
in many parts of Africa the baobab is 
known as the monkey bread tree. David 
Livingstone called the baobabs "those 
upturned carrots". He slept in a hollow 
baobab and declared there was room for 
thirty men inside the trunk. 

An eccentric official at Katima Molilo in 
the Caprivi Strip found a new use for the 
old baobab; he installed a flush lavatory, 
probably the only one on the African 
continent. However, he moved all the 
equipment out again after encountering a 
mamba there. Baobabs growing in 
Northern Transvaal villages are some- 
times used as garages. More than one 
farmer has discovered that the interior of 
the tree has a preservative atmosphere; 
you can keep meat fresh there, and it is a 
good, cool place for a dairy. Towards the 
end of last century there was a bar in a fat 

baobab outside Leydsdorp, a famous 
haunt of the gold-seekers. 

Native chiefs in Abyssinia and farther 
south have been buried in the trunks of 
baobabs. Their bodies have become 
mummified owing to the preservative 
action. No doubt that is the reason why 
certain baobabs are reputed to be the 
homes of devils. After dark the devils lie 
in wait among the twisted branches for 
victims. Place your ear to the trunk and 
you will hear the devils inside chuckling. 
Even the boldest native sings as he passes 
a baobab at night, never pausing to listen 
to the evil voices. 

Perhaps the bees are responsible for the 
legend. Wild bees often perforate the soft 
trunk of a baobab and lodge their honey in 
the recesses. This is regarded by many 
native epicures as the finest honey in 

In dry areas the top of the baobab trunk 
acts as a reservoir, catching rainwater and 

dew. When you see pegs driven into the 
trunk you may be sure there is a natural 
reservoir above. Early travellers recorded 
their gratitude for this wise custom, 
saying that the water saved their lives. 
However, the tree reservoir is not without 
its perils. I heard of a lone Bushman who 
climbed in search of moisture, fell into the 
deep, hollow trunk and perished. But in 
lion country the baobab may be a lifesaver 
indeed. The foot traveller who has to sleep 
beside the road feels much more 
comfortable in the branches. 

The baobab, cream of tartar tree, received 
its botanical name Adansonia digitata 
from the French traveller Adanson. He 
examined fine specimens in Senegal two 
hundred years ago. (Cape Verde, where 
Adanson landed, gained its name when 
the early Portuguese sighted the green 
leaves of the baobabs in the desert.) 
Scientists have calculated from the rings 
in the cross-section of the main trunk that 
the baobab may live twice as long as the 

Sacred Bo-Tree of Ceylon, the fig tree 
planted nearly three centuries before the 
birth of Christ and worshipped ever since. 
Humboldt, the explorer, spoke of the 
baobab as "the oldest organic monument 
of our planet". 

The bottle-shaped trunk of the baobab 
swells out in the course of the centuries to 
a diameter of thirty or forty feet. Some 
specimens have a girth greater than their 
height. The maximum height is about 
seventy feet. Then the soft, spongy trunk 
branches out into huge, nightmarish 
branches carrying little golden lamps of 

Probably the best-known baobab in Africa 
is "The Tree" close to the Victoria Falls, 
and seen by every tourist. (This should not 
be confused with the tree on Livingstone 
Island at the very brink of the Falls, 
mentioned elsewhere in this book, on 
which Livingstone carved his initials.) 
Many baobabs have been declared 
"historical monuments" to save them from 

destruction. Many fine specimens have 
been protected in the streets and gardens 
of Messina. Between the wars a large 
baobab was worth about a hundred 
pounds, and a firm cut them down and 
pulped them for paper. Since 1942, 
however, it has been illegal to fell a 
baobab anywhere in the Union. 

One remote baobab in the Zambesi valley 
records stirring and tragic pages of 
African adventure. Old hunters chose that 
tree as a monument to friends who would 
hunt no more. The inscriptions read as 

Rider, died fever Lake Ngami 1 850. 
Maher, killed by Baralongs 1852. 
Wahlberg, killed by wounded elephant 

Dolman, died of thirst in Kalahari 

desert 1851. 
Robinson, taken by crocodile Botetli 

river 1851. 
Pretorius, died fever near Victoria 

Falls 1862. 

Bonfield, killed by crocodile 

Ovamboland 1861. 
Burgess, blown up, gunpowder 

accident 1860. 

If a baobab tree is cut down, say the 
natives, lions will surely visit the spot. A 
hunter once told me that there was some 
ground for the belief; the water stored in 
the trunk would attract the animals in a 
dry season. 

Truly the baobab marks the path of 
African adventures. And surely it is the 
most fantastic of South Africa's five 
hundred varieties of native trees. Always 
their vast trunks and mushroom branches 
give the landscape an impression of their 
size, coupled with a grey breath of old 
age. I think the early Dutch explorer's 
description remains the most fitting: 
"Eenen boom die, niet minder dan de 
Olyphant onder de Beesten, een monster 
is onder het geboomte. " (A tree that, no 
less than the elephant among the animals, 
is a monster among the trees.) 

Chapter 17 
Trails Of The Tuskers 

Elephants take us back to the dawn of 
the world. Other great creatures of the 
prehistoric darkness are now known only 
by their bones. The elephant comes 
trumpeting into our day as a surviving 
mammoth, the real king of the beasts, 
brave and strong and possibly wiser than 
the apes. But unless we are careful, this 
century may be the twilight of the African 

Wherever you find elephants there are 
mysteries to be solved. I have listened to 
the local elephant legends in many parts 
of Africa. A sight I shall never forget was 
the well-known Bor herd on the Nile near 
Juba, seen from the air in wartime. They 
looked like chubby mice. But the 
elephants which I regard fondly as 
romantic little groups (never having been 
in the way of a stampede) are the Knysna 
and Addo herds. Elephants are rarities 
indeed at the southern end of Africa. It is 
strange to find any elephants alive in these 
forests after the massacres of the past, and 
they are worth preserving. 

Some say that the Knysna elephants are 
the largest in the world, while the Addo 
elephants are dwarfs. Certainly a story 
worth investigating. I have heard the 
legend of the "elephant graveyard" in both 
areas. Then there are tales, almost incre- 
dible but true, of elephant intelligence. All 
over Africa there are roads and railways 
which follow the old trails of the tuskers. 

Many a government surveyor, seeking the 
easiest gradients, has found his theodolite 
merely confirming what the elephants 
discovered ages ago. Bloukrans Pass on 
the Garden Route is an old elephant 
highway. A surveyor followed an elephant 
track between Tsitsikama and the east. He 
came to one place where the elephants 
must have climbed steep rocks and used 
the root of a tree to lever themselves 
upwards. It was difficult, but the only way 
through, and the elephants had conquered 

Many old people in the town of Knysna 
have never seen an elephant. Yet the last 
four are there, in the cool green shelter of 
the forest; descendants of the vast herds 
that made their home among the tall 
stinkwood trees when the world was 
young. It is another proof of man's greed 
that only four of all those uncounted 
thousands should remain. Perhaps the 
oldest of the survivors escaped from white 
hunters with muzzle-loaders. No one 

knows how long an elephant may live. 
Long ago the herds in these forests 
became the victims of Bushmen who used 
poisoned arrows and dug pits. How long 
will the last four survive? 

My friend Denis Woods, mountaineer and 
authority on wild life in Southern Africa, 
tells me that the three bulls and one cow 
of the Knysna group now roam in a re- 
duced area only six miles from Knysna 
town. Late last century there were 
hundreds of elephants in these forests. 
Denis Woods believes that only the 
importation of new blood could save this 
herd. The calves would not be true 
Knysna elephants, but the strain might be 
passed on by the surviving bull. 

I went in search of those elephants years 
ago, when there were more of them, but 
saw only their droppings and the boughs 
they had snapped during their tremendous 
passage. In the forest, seven miles from 
Knysna, I met a timber foreman, one of 
the handful of men who knew the 

elephants. "They were rooting up the 
ferns in a kloof when I last saw them," he 
said. "Talking to each other with voices 
like turkey-cocks, rolling in the mud- 
holes, tobogganing down the muddy 
slopes with their feet together like great 
dogs. I was not more than three hundred 
yards away, but they could not get my 
scent - the wind was in my direction. For 
ten minutes I watched them at play; then I 
shouted. They all went swaying off 
blindly into the undergrowth, gaining 
speed like battering-rams, the old ones 
urging the calves along, until they disap- 
peared, still trumpeting and breaking 
down the young trees in their path." 

On rainy days, sometimes, the herd leaves 
the forest to rove the open veld. Elephants 
detest heat and the blind flies that worry 
them in the open on hot days. Also, they 
seem to know that they are less likely to 
encounter human beings in wet weather. 

The foreman once found an elephant 
skeleton, with one tusk in the ground, 

broken, and the other missing - stolen by 
some poacher. Years ago there was a 
daring band of Knysna woodcutters who 
used to prey on the elephant herds. The 
ivory was smuggled away under loads of 
timber in ox wagons fitted with false 
bottoms. Elephant hunting was still 
permitted in the Northern Transvaal in 
those days; and there the poachers sold 
their tusks. 

People in Knysna still talk of the Duke of 
Edinburgh's elephant hunt in 1864, and 
old engravings in many homes show the 
Duke firing at an enormous tusker at 
eighteen yards range while his frenzied 
horse bolts. That day the dogs tackled a 
cornered herd. The elephants immediately 
formed a sort of laager, with their tusks 
outwards and the young elephants inside 
the square. They maintained that 
formation to keep the dogs at bay; then 
the elephant leader trumpeted and the herd 
stampeded to safety. Later in the day, 
however, two fine bulls were shot and the 

Duke took the heads and skins back to 
England with him. 

Some accounts state that one of the 
Duke's elephants measured thirteen feet at 
the shoulder, while the length from trunk 
to tail was thirty-two feet. A Knysna 
elephant shot in 1919 was reported to 
stand twelve feet six inches in height, and 
this specimen was claimed as the largest 
ever mounted for a museum anywhere in 
the world. However, the South African 
Museum authorities contested the claim 
on the ground that the system of 
measurement was faulty. This particular 
elephant is to be seen in the Transvaal 
Museum, Pretoria. 

It is difficult to prove the assertion that the 
Knysna elephants are (or rather were) the 
largest members of the race because there 
are few records to assist the scientist. The 
old hunters were interested only in ivory. 
They measured tusks, not torsos. How- 
ever, all through the years of hunting you 
come across references to the Knysna 

giants. One day, perhaps, a sufficient 
number of skulls will be found and 
measured by some keen zoologist in 
search of the facts. 

So much mystery still surrounds the life 
story and habits of the elephant that it is 
not remarkable that the Knysna herd 
provides riddles for the people of the 
forests. There is a government station in 
the forest at Deepwalls. Year after year, 
sometimes on the same night each year, 
the herd crosses the road at the thirteenth 
milestone near Deepwalls. They remain in 
a lonely, burnt-out clearing for two days; 
then they return to their favourite abode at 
a place called Oubrand. No one can say 
what strange instinct moves them to make 
this regular pilgrimage. 

Regular camp followers of the Knysna 
elephants are the wild pigs of the forest. 
Often the herds mingle. The pigs, of 
course, know very well that the powerful 
elephants will kick up all sorts of 
tempting food in the shape of roots, seeds 

and insects. It will be a sad day for the 
bosvark when the last Knysna elephant 

Baboons also keep the elephants 
company. When a man approaches the 
elephants go swaying off blindly, crashing 
through the bush, urging the calves along 
and breaking down the young trees in 
their path. The plantations suffer, even 
from this small herd. Elephants like tasty 
roots. They make a mass attack, like a 
battering-ram, on a tree which is too 
strong for one elephant to uproot alone. A 
forest official once showed me a fire-belt 
of young blackwood trees, valued at two 
hundred pounds, torn down by the herd. 
These Knysna elephants seem to hate the 
works of man. They have hurled wagons 
off the forest tracks, scattered loose stone 
beacons, destroyed gates. 

Nevertheless it is more than half a century 
since a Knysna elephant killed a man. He 
had foolishly pitched his camp on an 
elephant trail, and while he slept his dog 

annoyed an elephant. Furiously the 
elephant charged the dog and crushed the 
sleeping man. I have also heard of a 
hunter of the 'seventies named Marais 
who shot ninety-nine elephants and laid a 
bet that he would pluck a hair from the 
tail of his hundredth elephant before 
shooting it. The elephant scented him, and 
that ended Knox's career. False or true, 
the tale bears a strong resemblance to an 
Addo legend which I shall relate 

Woodcutters used to fear the elephants, 
and not altogether without reason. When 
they felled timber near a herd they always 
lashed a rope ladder to a safe tree. I was 
told of a party of woodcutters who were 
"treed" for two days. Of course there are 
many false alarms, and a famous practical 
joke used to be played by the woodcutters. 
One of the party crept away from the 
camp at night, rolled a log down towards 
his companions, and blew into a paraffin 
tin. This reproduced exactly the terrifying 

noise of a charging elephant. The 
woodcutters cleared out, and the 
humourist was able to jeer at the men in 
the tree-tops. 

It is said that the Knysna elephants go 
pounding across country, at intervals of 
many years, to visit their dwarf cousins in 
the Addo Bush. No such stampede, 
however, has been observed in recent 
times. The last of the Knysna giants have 
little in common with their Addo cousins. 

Thousands of people see the Addo 
elephants every year, one of the most 
interesting herds in Africa. Generations of 
hunters, years of hunger and thirst, made 
these elephants so vicious that Selous 
declared that any man who ventured into 
the Addo bush unarmed was a "suicidal 
ass". Now the last rifle-shot has been 
heard in the Addo National Game 
Reserve. The elephants have been enticed 
into the open, supplied with water and 
oranges. New roads have been built round 
the reserve. The Addo herd has taken its 

place as one of the wonders of South 

Once the Addo elephants were giants like 
the other herd of survivors a hundred 
miles away in the Knysna forests. The 
dense Addo scrub did not give them the 
protection which instinct warned them 
was necessary. And so, in the course of 
many centuries, according to one theory, 
the Addo elephants became smaller in 
stature while increasing in girth. This 
change not only enabled them to escape 
observation, but also to force a passage 
through the bush with greater ease. 

Are the Addo elephants really different 
from all their other African cousins? 
Some naturalists are inclined to dispute 
the theory, and they point to a male Addo 
elephant which measured eleven feet two 
inches at the shoulders; certainly a tall 
elephant anywhere. Nevertheless, such an 
authority as Lt. -Colonel J. Stevenson- 
Hamilton, former warden of the Kruger 
National Park, described the Addo herd as 

of "uniformly smaller size". Dr. Austin 
Roberts, too, thought the Addo elephants 
formed a race apart. Most of them are 
shorter and broader than other elephants. 
Their hairy bodies are peculiar, a throw- 
back to the shaggy mammoths of the ice 

Ivory hunters of the past found the Addo 
elephants disappointing, for many of them 
had broken their tusks in the dense under- 
growth, and seven out of ten were without 
tusks. Only in recent years have scientists 
realised that this was another example of 
evolution. A forest elephant needs tusks 
for stripping bark and digging out roots. 
Tusks were a handicap in the Addo bush, 
and so they disappeared. You can still 
trace the groove of the upper lip in tusk 
less specimens, but many skulls show no 
tusk cavity. Thus it is fair to assume that 
the process must have started thousands of 
years ago. But I wish someone would 
explain to me why some of the elephants 
still display tusks. 

The exact strength of the present Addo 
herd is unknown, though it is believed that 
there are at least four large bulls and 
thirteen cows and calves. So these two 
small groups, dwarfs of Addo and giants 
of Knysna, are all that are left of the herds 
hundreds strong that devastated the farms 
of early settlers and still roamed 
unchecked at the beginning of this 

Even in 1919, when the value of such 
rarities as elephants was not realised as it 
is today, the extermination order was 
given reluctantly. Even then there were 
glimmerings of the idea that elephants 
might attract tourists. Farming near the 
reserve, of course, had become almost 
impossible owing to the raids of the herd. 
Dams had been ruined, fences uprooted, 
irrigation canals destroyed. The massacre 
of the herd was a mistake, but at the time 
no one was prepared to take the trouble 
and spend the money necessary to 
preserve the Addo herd. 

Major P. J. Pretorius, C.M.G., D.S.O. (the 
man who located the German cruiser 
Konigsberg in the Rufiji delta) was 
employed by the provincial authorities to 
exterminate the Addo elephants. He 
claimed to have shot more than one 
hundred and twenty in eleven months. 
Then the slaughter was stopped. 

Long afterwards, during World War II, I 
met Major Pretorius for the first time, 
with an Italian car (and Italian driver) he 
had "commandeered" in Abyssinia. I had 
always been puzzled by the death of 
Major-General Ravenshaw during the 
Addo hunt, and I asked Pretorius about it. 
Pretorius reminded me that the great 
Selous had once said that hunting in the 
Addo thickets would amount to suicide. It 
is a maze, a villainous thorn jungle. One 
day a honeymoon couple entered the 
Addo bush near Coerney station and were 
never seen again. The search-parties 
returned with nothing more than a few 
scraps of clothing, and no one knows 

whether they died of thirst, or were killed 
by elephants or buffalo. 

Ravenshaw, according to newspaper 
reports at the time, had gone after a 
leopard with two coloured beaters and had 
blundered into a herd of elephant. During 
the stampede, the beaters lost touch and 
returned to camp without the general. 
Pretorius told me of the search he 
organised; the whole of his own party, 
forty farmers and their labourers. And at 
last they came upon the body of General 
Ravenshaw, face down, untouched by any 
animal, and guarded by two Alsatians 
belonging to Pretorius. The post-mortem 
revealed heart failure, due to General 
Ravenshaw 's sufferings in World War I as 
a prisoner-of-war. He had simply died of 
shock when the elephants charged. 

Pretorius recalled a queer sequel to this 
tragedy. He sent a telegram to Mrs. 
Ravenshaw, who was staying with Lady 
Buxton at Government House, Cape 
Town. "This is to say that my husband is 

dead," said Mrs. Ravenshaw as she 
opened the telegram. Four days before 
that, at the time of Ravenshaw 's death, 
she had known that she would never see 
him again. 

Only a hunter with the skill of Pretorius 
could hope to survive for long in the 
notorious Addo bush and Pretorius had to 
find a new technique to make hunting 
possible. He found the waterholes first. 
Then he made a ladder to see over the 
bush, and carried it with him everywhere. 
He shot almost every elephant at point 
blank range. And he used dogs cleverly, 
finding them more reliable than some of 
his coloured beaters. 

A deadly maze is the Addo, and many 
dramatic encounters have occurred there. 
Among the last of the professional 
elephant hunters in the district over a 
century ago was a daredevil named 
Thackwray. He made a bet that he would 
find a large and vicious bull elephant, 

chalk his initials on its hind quarters, and 
then shoot it. 

Thackwray chalked his elephant all right, 
and fired. But the dying elephant managed 
to grip the hunter with its trunk, and the 
two were found dead together. Thus did 
Thackwray learn, too late, the same lesson 
that Knox of Knysna had learnt to his 

Crick, a white man who appears to have 
been a sort of half-witted Tarzan, lived in 
the Addo early this century. In spite of his 
feeble brain he was a first-class tracker 
and hunter. Crick came into town only to 
earn money for sugar and coffee, salt and 
ammunition; then he would vanish into 
the bush again and live on the buck and 
birds he shot. Sometimes he poached an 
elephant, always selecting one with ivory. 

Crick's only friend was a farmer named 
Attrill, who kept an elephant calf as a pet. 
The pet died, and Attrill and Crick 
ventured foolishly into the Addo in the 

hope of capturing another young elephant. 
Crick led Attrill up to a cow elephant with 
calf. Attrill wounded the mother. The 
elephant charged, and though Crick fired 
again and again, Attrill was smashed to 
pulp. Crick never recovered from this 
experience. Long afterwards his skeleton 
was found in the bush, and beneath it 
there was a rusty revolver with one 
cartridge used. 

Every farmer in the district has stories to 
tell of chance encounters with the 
elephants. One farmer, taking a load of 
forage to the nearest town by wagon at 
night, heard the elephants trumpeting 
along the road. They smelt the forage and 
cautiously approached the wagon. The 
farmer was a man of resource. He seized a 
bundle of hay, set fire to it, and dropped it 
on the road. The elephants fell back until 
the light they feared had burnt out. By 
firing more and more hay the farmer 
reached safety, the wagon almost empty. 

Another farmer named Pienaar was not so 
fortunate. He was out driving cattle when 
a lone bull elephant charged and killed 
him. Some years ago a fencing contractor 
named Vermaak was killed in much the 
same way; he was hunting buck with a 
shotgun when a "rogue" attacked him. 
The search party found his remains days 
afterwards. This death, according to the 
trackers, was caused by a rogue elephant 
known as Blinkvoet, which had a lame 
leg. Blinkvoet was a notorious old killer, 
but a Hottentot escaped from it by 
creeping into an aardvark burrow and 
cowering underground. The elephant tore 
up the earth but failed to reach him. 

The most recent tragedy was in 1952, 
when Janet Marthinus, a seventeen-year- 
old servant, was trampled to death at night 
on the road between Addo station and 
Addo Heights. She was with her sister and 
two men when the elephants charged the 
party. All the others escaped. 

Addo farmers used to set traps for the 
elephant raiders. A "spring cannon" fixed 
in a well-known path would sometimes 
kill an elephant. Fitzsimons of the Port 
Elizabeth Museum recorded an Addo 
elephant bull which had carried several 
bullets and a brass cannon-ball an inch in 
diameter for years. Many other elephants 
in that herd had been peppered with lead, 
and it had not improved their tempers. 

It is said that the Addo elephants have a 
system of signals, and that they always 
used it in the days when they were hunted. 
Often a herd of elephants makes more 
noise than an express train passing 
through a station. Their trumpeting could 
be heard easily above the roar of a liner' s 
siren. But if you approached a herd of 
Addo elephants in the days when they 
distrusted man, a shrill call would go out 
which put every elephant on guard. They 
might stampede with the noise of an 
earthquake or vanish silently into the bush 

with only the cracking of a bough here or 
there to show which way they had gone. 

Chains of fire were used at one time to 
discourage the Addo elephants from 
wandering out of their reserve. In hot, dry 
weather they become restless and they 
invaded farms in search of water. 
Occasionally they broke through the 
flaming bush and ran amuck on cultivated 
land. Within an hour a single elephant on 
the rampage can create havoc reminiscent 
of a cyclone. An elephant has a great 
thirst to slake. 

When the Addo elephants left their own 
bush to seek prickly pears in open 
country, they had to cross the Port Eliza- 
beth railway line. Several were killed by 
trains; in 1940 there were two such 
collisions. There was a time, however, 
when an old bull elephant besieged the 
railwaymen at Coerney station, forty 
miles from Port Elizabeth. It all arose 
through the folly of the station foreman's 
dog, which tackled the elephant. 

A moment later the dog realised its 
mistake and went yelping back to the 
station with the elephant thundering after 

That elephant had tusks. It tore down the 
station fences, pounded along the platform 
and searched the outside walls of the 
station buildings for hours, seeking its 
enemy the dog, scenting it but never 
cornering it. At last the owner managed to 
coax his dog into a room. The furious 
elephant went off, only to return a few 
hours later. 

All the station staff and some friends who 
were visiting them had barricaded 
themselves in one of the houses. A goods 
train arrived during this crisis, but the 
driver remained outside the station until 
the elephant had departed. Those 
railwaymen never forgot the siege of 
Coerney station. And it seems that the 
survivors of the Addo herd have never 
forgotten Pretorius and his dogs. You 
could madden those gentle, orange-eating 

Addo elephants to this day by firing a shot 
in the air or setting a dog on them. I do 
not wish to be there if any practical joker 
decides to try this trick, for I have seen the 
anger of the elephants in several far 

These survivors owe their lives to Colonel 
Deneys Reitz who, as Minister of Lands, 
took steps to preserve them. He described 
their terror-stricken journeys beyond the 
fringe of the Addo bush in search of water 
- night raids which placed them at the 
mercy of indignant farmers with rifles. 

"They have learnt by grim experience the 
exact extent of their dubious sanctuary," 
declared Colonel Reitz. "They know to a 
yard where runs the invisible boundary 
through the bush of their reserve. Watch 
their movements during their nightly 
sortie to drink at the river, and it is clear 
that the journey is to them one of 
recurrent terror. They keep to the densest 
part of the bush by day, and at night they 

slink down furtively to drink at a gulp, 
after which they rush back to cover." 

The men on the spot who helped to save 
the elephants were the Harvey brothers, 
sons of a pioneer farmer in the area. The 
Harveys allowed the remnants of the herd 
to live in peace on their farms. 

Mr. Harold Trollope, the game ranger 
appointed by the National Parks Board, 
had the delicate task of driving the 
elephants off the farms and into the 
reserve (proclaimed in 1931) after 
windmills and dams had been provided 
for them. Trollope was the man who 
devised the diet of oranges which has 
probably soothed the nerves of the 
elephants more than anything else. A herd 
which was once rightly suspicious of man 
now comes out into the open every 
evening to be fed. 

Wherever you go on the trails of the 
tuskers you are bound to hear the undying 
tale of the elephant graveyard. It is a great 

cemetery, piled high with ivory. Here the 
elephants, guided by instinct, make their 
painful, blundering way when death is 
upon them. 

I have heard the story of "ivory valley" in 
Knysna, in the Eastern Province, in 
Zululand, and in many parts of tropical 
Africa. A band of hunters, camping along 
the lower reaches of the Sundays River 
soon after World War I, found a gorge 
with a mound of disintegrating elephant 
bones. A similar deposit of bones and 
teeth was identified by these hunters at a 
place known as Boesaks Kloof on the 
farm Glen Rollo at Tootabi. Natives came 
from far away to carry off the larger 
bones. They ground up these bones for 
"muti", mixed it with mealie meal and fed 
their children on the porridge to give them 
the courage of the elephants. 

Mpande, thirty miles south of the 
Umzimvubu river mouth, is another 
"elephant cemetery" area. Mr. W. Stanyon 
was removing hardwood logs for export 

from the virgin forests there in 1933 when 
he reached a clearing of several acres. 
Here he found skeletons of a number of 
elephants, but a careful search failed to 
reveal the tusks. Mr. Stanyon did find an 
ancient assegai head, so that he may have 
discovered the victims of primitive 

About twenty years ago an amateur 
excavator named Laurenson took me to a 
spot near the mouth of the Milnerton vlei 
and showed me what he called a 
graveyard of the mammoths. For years he 
had been digging up fossilised tusks and 
the teeth of mammoths on Cape Town's 
doorstep. These mammoths were of the 
type known scientifically as the 
archidiskodon, the giant forerunner of the 
elephant. Laurenson declared that 
Milnerton and Paarden Island were vast 
cemeteries of prehistoric animals, 
especially elephants. He thought that 
Table Bay might once have been an 
inland vlei where strange creatures 

roamed. Certainly many of them died in 
the Milnerton lagoon. 

Elephants were roaming over most of the 
Cape Peninsula when Van Riebeeck 
arrived, but the last elephant on the Cape 
Flats was shot fifty years later. Early last 
century, however, you would have 
encountered elephant herds five hundred 
strong in the Graaff-Reinet area. Ivory 
markets flourished long after that time. 
There were hundreds of elephants in the 
Knysna forests as late as 1876, and no one 
imagined that they would become almost 
extinct. So the legend of the elephant 
cemetery became part of the folklore in 
every forest where the tuskers were found. 

One point about the legend which has 
always impressed me is that Selous and 
other famous old hunters accepted it 
without question. Today there are still 
many experts who are impressed by the 
evidence. I was interested recently to find 
such a careful naturalist as Dr. Maurice 

Burton quoting a well-authenticated 
example of elephants having dragged a 
dead comrade through the jungle all night. 
Dr. Burton has investigated many animal 
legends. Some he found to be correct. In 
all there was a foundation of truth. 

How did this most persistent of African 
legends originate? The earliest reference I 
have discovered in print is in a work by 
Andrew Battell, an Englishman who 
travelled in Angola early in the 
seventeenth century. Battell related that 
the Portuguese found heaps of tusks in the 
bush. Perhaps this was the birth of the 
legend which others, thinking wistfully of 
the valuable ivory, have embroidered after 
the fashion of treasure tales. On the other 
hand, I think this legend has the 
foundation of truth which Maurice Burton 
found in so many remarkable animal 

The elephant legend is based on two well- 
known facts. The first is that natives still 
appear from time to time with heavy loads 

of valuable tusks; tusks which have 
obviously not been cut from newly-killed 
elephants. "We found them in the bush," 
say the natives; that is their story and they 
stick to it. But nothing will persuade them 
to lead a white man to the source of the 
endless supply. 

The second indisputable fact is that dead 
elephants, apart from those shot or 
trapped, are seldom found. Now an 
elephant is a difficult thing to hide. Some 
parts of Africa are still alive with 
elephants; their giant spoor are seen for 
miles round every waterhole, and a herd, 
stampeding along the horizon, looks like 
an express train. Elephants in the wild 
state live for about fifty years, so that in 
the very large herds there must be deaths 
every month. Where do the dying 
elephants go? According to the legend 
they know that death is upon them. 
Trumpeting the shrill call of death they 
vanish into the secret valley where the 

huge skeletons of their ancestors lie 
whitening in the sun. 

Some colour is lent to the legend by the 
fact that when the elephants kill a human 
being they bury the body under a heap of 
grass. It is argued that such intelligent 
animals may have burial customs of their 
own. Hunters have also watched the 
elephant cows succouring their bull when 
wounded; squirting water down its throat; 
covering it with branches to give 
protection from heat and flies; guarding 
the body long after death. 

Colonel J. L. F. Tweedie, a former district 
commissioner in the Sudan, offered a 
solution of the mystery from his own 
experience. Ivory was brought to his 
headquarters to be weighed and 
registered, and he noticed that one 
consignment was badly scorched. He 
discovered that the natives had located a 
herd of elephant in a swamp which had 
dried out. They had fired the tall grass all- 
round the herd, so that the panic-stricken 

elephants had all perished within the wall 
of flame. Colonel Tweedie suggested that 
a traveller coming upon the bones of the 
herd long afterwards might well imagine 
that he had stumbled on an elephant 

Sir William Dowers, Governor of Uganda 
twenty-six years ago, estimated that about 
two thousand elephants died of natural 
causes in Africa every year. He agreed 
that practically the only dead elephants he 
had seen were those which had been shot, 
trapped, speared or fallen over cliffs. 
Elephants do meet with fatal accidents. 
Some years ago three elephants were 
killed by lightning in Northern Rhodesia. 
Others have died after being bitten by 
snakes. Sir William Dowers, however, 
was against the cemetery theory. He 
believed that the dying elephants were 
submerged in rivers and swamps. And this 
belief was supported by an engineer who 
sank the caissons for the Blue Nile Bridge 

at Khartoum. He found layers of elephant 
bones twenty feet below the river bed. 

Other opponents of the graveyard legend 
say that it is easy to explain the absence of 
dead elephants. A feeble, dying elephant 
may be pulled down by a pack of lions 
and the flesh eaten; then come the hyenas, 
and even the largest bones are cracked 
and scattered and finally covered by the 
undergrowth. Along river banks the 
crocodiles join in the feast. Thus a great 
tusker is reduced to fragments and lost. 

Carl Mauch of Zimbabwe fame, the 
German explorer and prospector of the 
eighteen-sixties, supported the legend. He 
was travelling in Bechuanaland with a 
native guide, and they entered a narrow 
kloof which broadened out into a huge, 
deep gorge. It was littered for miles with 
bones which Mauch identified as relics of 
elephants; but there were no tusks. Mauch 
described this place as the elephant 
cemetery of Bechuanaland. 

I do not know whether Mauch' s cemetery 
has been rediscovered. When I was in 
Bechuanaland with a desert expedition in 
1936, however, I heard a Kalahari tale 
which links up with the cemetery legend. 
Somewhere in the Kalahari, they say, 
there is a huge volcanic crater where men, 
animals and wagons have all been 
trapped. A German hunter named 
Erlanger declared that he had fallen into 
this great pit with his wagon. Escaping 
with bruises, he had found a stream of 
water and lived on the provisions he 
carried in his wagon. Then he explored 
the crater and came across a number of 
elephant skeletons complete with tusks. 
After a few days in this queer prison he 
hammered wooden pegs into the steep 
walls and climbed out. Bushmen guided 
him back to civilisation. No doubt the 
ordeal of Erlanger has been exaggerated 
with time, but there are so many geo- 
graphical oddities in the Kalahari that the 
crater may indeed exist. 

Tippo Tib, greatest of the old Zanzibar 
slave traders, was said to have discovered 
a huge "ivory valley" where thousands of 
East African elephants had gone to die. 
British officials are supposed to have 
offered him ten per cent of the value of all 
ivory recovered if he would show them 
the hoard; but he trusted no white man 
and the secret was thought to have died 
with him. Tippo Tib had a nephew named 
Mohammed Abdulla, however, who was 
just as great a scoundrel as the uncle. In 
1927 Mohamed Abdulla approached the 
Uganda government with a story of ivory 
buried long before the white man came. 
He refused to supply details beyond a 
statement that he had been given the ivory 
by a dead friend. Was it Tippo Tib's 
hoard? Mohammed Abdulla secured the 
assurances he sought, and it is on record 
that he produced more than one hundred 
magnificent tusks. 

Major P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, a pioneer 
hunter in British East Africa, always 

maintained that he had found an 
unmistakable elephant graveyard in the 
Turkana country. "I was surprised to find 
the whole countryside scattered with 
remains, the fitful sun, as it struggled 
through the clouds, lighting up glistening 
bones in every direction," he wrote. "My 
guide called this 'the place where the 
elephants come to die', and assured me it 
was no fell disease which had decimated a 
vast herd, but that, when the elephants felt 
sick, they would deliberately come long 
distances to lay their bones in this spot. 
The place was well-known to the 
Turkana, who regularly visited it to carry 
off the tusks." 

Even more convincing is the evidence of 
Major J. F. Cumming, a district 
commissioner in the Sudan, who wrote an 
account of an elephant cemetery for a 
scientific journal only a few years ago. 
Major Cumming shot an elephant in a 
herd along the Upper Nile, and returned 
next day to cut out the tusks. But the 

elephant had disappeared. It was resting 
under eighteen inches of earth, and 
everywhere Major Cumming found the 
tusk marks of the gravediggers. 

I flew low over a genuine elephant 
graveyard during World War II, and one 
of my companions, who had been there on 
foot, told me the story. It was Lake 
Bangweolo in Northern Rhodesia. 
Through the smoke haze of bush fires I 
saw this vast, weird lake; sixteen hundred 
square miles of shallow water and 
tortuous waterways; paths of logs through 
the swamps; canoes and huge banana trees 
and rushes; birds in myriads, ducks and 
herons, cranes and marabou storks. I 
thought that I could detect black baboons 
moving in the trees, but my companion 
said they were the pygmies. He pointed 
out their villages, huts on stilts on large 
and small islands in this fantastic water- 
jungle. And he said there were other 
islands in Bangweolo where only the 
elephants were at home. They were cut off 

in the rainy season. Elephants were born 
on those islands, and they died there. 
Hunters dared not follow them, for the 
rushes and thickets made these elephant 
sanctuaries more dangerous to man than 
the Addo bush. Somewhere near the 
western shore of Bangweolo, according to 
local legend, there is an elephant cemetery 
with a wealth in ivory. I was content to 
look down on this breeding ground and 
burial place of the elephants - but I 
wished the Lodestar had not flown so fast. 
It was one of those tantalising glimpses 
that the air gives and takes away. 

All that can be said with certainty is that 
the sick, dying elephant knows a great 
thirst which must be slaked. Thus many 
elephants in a district may follow the 
same trail in their last hours; the path that 
leads most easily to water. Having drunk 
for the last time their great bodies may 
sink into the swamp or pool which has 
become the cemetery of the herd. And so 

they vanish until a very dry year reveals 
the skeletons and tusks. 

"He has gone to die by himself," say the 
natives when an old and well-known bull 
elephant disappears at last from the tribal 
areas. "How would we know where he has 

It may be a myth, but I like to think that 
the heap of skeletons in Ivory Valley 
grows larger year by year. Cullen 
Gouldsbury's poem gives a vivid 
impression of the secret cemetery: 

Pile upon Pile of bleaching bone, and 

afoul miasmic breath, 
With now and again a mighty moan to 

break on the hush of death — 
Sluggish streams, and the silver beams 

of a silent moon on high - 
God forfend I should meet my end in 

the Place where the elephants die. 

Chapter 18 
The Dodo Egg 

For food the seamen hunt the flesh of 

feathered fowl, 
They tap the palms, the round-sterned 

dodos they destroy; 
The Parrot's life they spare, that he 

may scream and howl 
And thus his fellows to imprisonment 


Translated from a verse in the log book of 
Captain Willem van West Zanen, 1601. 

I AM always fascinated by rarities, and it 
was an extreme rarity which Miss M. 
Courtenay Latimer lifted gently from her 
safe at my request. Miss Courtenay 
Latimer is the Director of the East London 
Museum, and the first coelacanth netted 
in South African waters bears her name 
(Latimer a Chalumnae); for she realized 
the scientific value of the brilliant steel- 
blue fish and brought Professor Smith on 
the scene. However, the dodo egg which 
Miss Latimer showed me is probably 
worth more than any fish. 

Some oologists, as the egg experts call 
themselves, regard this large cream- 
coloured egg as the most important 
survival in the whole egg world. It must 
be worth hundreds of pounds; more than 
the pale greenish egg of the great auk; or 
the foot-long, ivory -coloured fossil egg of 
Madagascar's Aepyornis titan, largest bird 
in the ancient world. In fact, the only egg 
which might rival the dodo egg would be 
a perfect moa egg. Fragments of these 

eggs have been found in New Zealand 
caves, and have fetched high prices, but a 
complete moa egg has never been found. 

Both the moa and the dodo became 
extinct at about the same time, late in the 
seventeenth century. The home of the 
dodo, the grey dodo with the massive 
beak, was Mauritius. Similar birds were 
found on the neighbouring islands of 
Reunion, where there was a white dodo, 
and Rodriguez, where an unsociable, 
long-legged dodo was rightly named the 
solitaire. Obviously the islands were once 
a single land mass, and the birds must 
have developed their local differences in 

A plump bird was the dodo, as large as a 
goose, but in reality a gigantic, ground 
pigeon. (The late Dr. Robert Broom, the 
scientist, regarded Delalande's green 
pigeon of South Africa as a living link.) 
On islands where the birds have no 
natural enemies and no need to use their 
wings they tend to become flightless. 

Then man arrives and the birds are 

The dodo ought to have survived longer 
than it did, for the Dutch cooks in the ship 
that took possession of Mauritius could do 
nothing with such a tough and unpalatable 
bird. Unfortunately later ships landed 
pigs, which smashed the eggs, and cats 
and dogs which ate the dodos, young and 
old. Some seamen were so eager to taste 
fresh food that they joined in the mass- 

Sir Thomas Herbert, an early English 
visitor, said of the dodo: "Her body is 
round and fat, which occasions the slow 
pace; and so great that few of them weigh 
less than fifty pounds; meat it is with 
some, but better to the eye than to the 
stomach, such as only a strong appetite 
can vanquish. It is of a melancholy visage, 
as sensible of Nature's injury in framing 
so massive a body to be directed by 
wings, such indeed as are unable to hoist 
her from the ground. Her stomach is fiery 

so that she can easily digest stones, in that 
and shape not a little resembling the 

Naturalists have studied the descriptions 
written by those who saw the living dodo 
without gleaning much scientific 
information. Its habits and diet remain a 
mystery, though it is known that the dodo 
nested on the ground and laid one egg at a 
time. Francois Cauche, a French visitor in 
the seventeenth century, said the egg was 
the same size as that of the Cape pelican. I 
once saw pelicans nesting on an island in 
False Bay, but it did not occur to me to 
study their eggs. In the same account 
Cauche said the egg was the size of a 
halfpenny bread roll, though I suspect the 
translator of turning the centimes into 
English currency. Nowhere else could I 
find any details of the eggs, and Cauche' s 
evidence is vague and slender. 

The story of Miss Courtenay Latimer's 
egg is a romance of the sea. This dodo egg 
is an heirloom, and it has been in the 

possession of her family for more than a 
century. Back in the eighteen-forties, and 
Mr. L. O. Bean of Port Elizabeth was 
pursuing his hobbies of zoology and 
botany. He introduced a number of plants 
into South Africa, and he was aided in his 
activities by Captain van Syker, an owner 
and skipper of a sailing vessel trading 
among the Indian Ocean islands. 

Mr. Bean's daughter Lavinia collected 
birds' eggs. One day in 1846 Captain van 
Syker told Lavinia that he was calling at 
Mauritius and promised to bring her an 
egg from there. He returned on January 
15, 1847 and handed the delighted girl a 
large egg. He had secured it from a 
shipwrecked sailor who had settled "on 
the island. This man owned two of the 
eggs, and he was unwilling to sell them. 
However, he owed Captain van Syker 
money and he parted with one egg in 
settlement of the debt. The sailor told the 
captain that it was the egg of a bird which 
had been exterminated by Dutch sailors. 

The last of the dodos were still waddling 
about the more remote parts of Mauritius 
in 1681, but there is evidence to show that 
by 1693 the whole species had been 
exterminated. While I was travelling 
about this large island some years ago I 
heard a remarkable Creole legend to the 
effect that the dodo still lived in the 
remote forests high in the mountains of 
the interior. But I fear that the dodo will 
not be rediscovered in the sensational 
manner of the New Zealand huia. The 
dodo has been dead for two and a half 

Lavinia Bean was Miss Latimer's great 
aunt. Before she died in 1935 at the age of 
ninety-eight she gave the egg to Miss 
Latimer; probably the only dodo's egg in 
the world. 

Of course there have been doubts about 
the egg, difficult to refute because of the 
absence of other dodo eggs for 
comparison. In the scanty literature on the 
dodo, old authors mentioned a reputed 

dodo egg in a Bordeaux collection, and 
two more owned by a Russian naturalist. 
These three eggs appear to have vanished 
long ago. Miss Latimer has made 
inquiries in every possible direction 
without even hearing a rumour of another 
dodo egg. 

Some of the scientists who gathered in 
East London in 1945 for the South 
African Museums Conference thought the 
egg might be an abnormal ostrich egg. 
Miss Latimer then set to work to defend 
the good name of her heirloom. If you put 
an egg under a magnifying glass you can 
study the "pitting pattern", which comes 
up as clearly as a human thumb-print. She 
found that the dodo egg displayed a 
"pitting pattern" similar to that of the 
pigeon egg, as Dr. Broom had suggested. 
Moreover, it was shaped and coloured 
more like the pigeon egg than the ostrich 
egg. (The dodo, you will remember, was 
an ungainly member of the pigeon 
family.) Miss Latimer found that the 

pitting on her dodo egg was coarse, close 
and reddish in colour, whereas all the 
ostrich eggs she examined were pitted 
sparsely with fine greyish pit holes. She 
examined one hundred and twenty-five 
abnormal ostrich eggs from a farm, and 
another thirty odd abnormal eggs from the 
Port Elizabeth Museum. Her dodo egg 
remained unique in its pitting pattern, 
texture, shape, form and colour. 

So I agree heartily with Miss Courtenay 
Latimer when she sums up: "In the light 
of the evidence supplied and of the history 
of this egg, I am satisfied that it is a dodo 
egg." The history is convincing. There 
have been practical jokes in the world of 
science, but there was no reason at all 
why Captain van Syker should have 
brought an ostrich egg from the island of 
the dodo for the daughter of his friend in 
Port Elizabeth. And if he had, the 
magnifying glass would have revealed the 

Bones of the dodo are not so rare as the 
eggs, though they must rank among the 
most valuable bones known to science. I 
believe the only complete, authentic dodo 
skeleton is one which I gazed upon with 
awe in the museum at Port Louis, Mauri- 
tius. Towards the end of last century a 
number of dodo bones were recovered 
from a swamp and sent to London. 
Experts under Sir Edward Newton at the 
British Museum then restored and 
mounted two skeletons, one perfect 
example for the island museum and 
another almost perfect skeleton for 

A stuffed dodo, which had been decaying 
for years in the Ashmolean Museum, 
Oxford, was thrown on a bonfire two 
centuries ago. Someone saved the head 
and a foot, precious relics today. There 
are realistic pictures of the dodo, however, 
for living dodos were taken to Europe in 
the seventeenth century and painted by 

Roelandt Savery in Holland and other 
artists in England. 

Miss Latimer recently acquired a life-size 
dodo effigy from the British Museum for 
the East London Museum. In the Durban 
Museum there is a fairly complete dodo 
skeleton. It was in 1919 that Mr. Chubb, 
the curator, heard of this skeleton in 
private hands in Mauritius. He managed 
to buy it for the ridiculous sum of forty 
pounds. Between the wars, dodo bones 
amounting to about one-third of a 
skeleton, were sold in London for two 
hundred and fifty pounds. The Durban 
skeleton includes the complete tail bones, 
the last rib, and the bones of the tiny 
wings. It has been valued at more than a 
thousand pounds. Interest in the dodo is 
proved by the thousands of postcards of 
the bird which the museum has sold. 
Visitors recall the pictures in "Alice in 
Wonderland" when they see the enormous 
hooked beak. 

This beak, incidentally, is of great 
scientific importance, for nothing else like 
it exists in the bird kingdom. It must have 
evolved as a result of a diet which 
demanded strong crushing power. As a 
whole, the dodo presents a picture of 
laziness and stupidity, and a notice in the 
British Museum points the moral: "The 
dodo is illustrated here as illustrating quite 
a serious principle: that in wild nature the 
creature which finds itself in easy 
surroundings and allows its powers to fall 
into disuse is likely to be exterminated 
when faced with new and more exacting 
conditions." No wonder the scientific 
name for the dodo is Didus ineptus. 

Madagascar was another island where the 
birds lived too easily. I have already 
mentioned the Aepyornis titan, a bird so 
large that an ostrich would have been 
dwarfed beside it. Sinbad's story of the 
fabulous roc, which carried off elephants 
to feed its young, may have been based on 
the Aepyornis. Strange to say, the 

Aepyornis was still alive in the twelfth 
century, A.D., and was probably extermi- 
nated by Indonesian invaders about that 
time. Several nearly complete skeletons 
and many fragments have been found. 

This monstrous, wingless bird stood over 
twelve feet high on its massive legs. The 
hunters who killed it may have been brave 
men; or perhaps it was a brainless bird 
without the deadly kick of the ostrich. 
Certainly it laid the largest egg known to 
science, equal to one hundred and fifty 
hens' eggs. 

Shortly before World War II an American 
collector secured an Aepyornis egg at a 
price which he would not disclose. The 
modern story of that egg went back to 
1912, when a savage herdsman in the 
Tandroy area of Madagascar saw a white 
object drifting along a flooded river. He 
reached out for it, saw that it was an egg, 
and remembered the tribal story of the 
mighty bird that had once roamed the 

Scientists who examined the scene 
decided that after a thousand years the egg 
must have been washed out of a 
protecting alluvial deposit by the heavy 
rains. The finder had given the egg to his 
chief, who had taken it to a white trader in 
the nearest town and received five head of 
cattle in exchange. That immense egg, a 
foot long, ten inches across, pockmarked 
by sand and insects, went from hand to 
hand. Finally a missionary took it to San 
Francisco in the hope of raising funds for 
his church. He was successful. And the 
collector had gained one of the finest 
specimens of the Aepyornis egg. But there 
are twenty-five other known specimens in 
the museums of the world. It is not 
unique, like the dodo egg. Since that 
discovery French district administrators in 
Madagascar have been offering the 
natives a reward of ten thousand francs 
for every Aepyornis egg they bring in. I 
believe one happy man handed over a 

perfect fossil egg not long ago and who goes to Mauritius and discovers a 

claimed the reward. dodo egg. 

Cape Town has an Aepyornis titan egg. It 
reposed in the museum cellar for many 
years, until a palaeontologist recognised 
the value of it and placed it in a showcase. 
Museums do not always realise what they 
have got. I know a wise old taxidermist 
who was serving his apprenticeship in 
Scotland when a woman whose husband 
was a sailor offered him the skin of a 
strange bird for a few shillings. He 
refused it, and the skin was thrown away. 
That bird lingered in his mind. Years 
afterwards he realised that it was a great 
auk. The woman had called it a hawk, and 
he was not interested in hawks. 

No doubt he would have dealt with a dodo 
egg in the same way in his youth. But 
relics of the queer, extinct birds of the 
Indian Ocean islands turn up once in a 
lifetime. Fame and fortune await the man 

Chapter 19 
Queer Behaviour 

"Always something new out of 
Africa," remarked Pliny the Elder nearly 
two thousand years ago. In those days, 
and for long afterwards, you could tell 
almost any story about Africa, and the 
credulous people of Europe would take it 
as gospel. Last century, with the growth 
of science, came disbelief. And the 
pendulum swung too far in that direction. 

One of the old tales, certainly more than 
three centuries old, dealt with the queer 
behaviour of the honey-guide. Some 

naturalists of Darwin's time permitted 
themselves a polite smile whenever this 
thundering lie was told. It turned out to be 
true, of course, though the whole mystery 
has not yet been solved. I believe that the 
last word on the honey-guide may be far 
more remarkable than the first. 

No doubt you have heard of this drab but 
lively bird. Possibly you have seen it 
leading human beings to the bees, and. 
listened to its insistent, persuasive "Cherr, 
cherr!" Sparrman the Swede, who made 
so many zoological discoveries at the 
Cape, received the credit for describing 
the black-throated honey-guide (Indicator 
indicator,) now known as Sparrman' s 
honey-guide. But he was not the first in 
the field. 

Father dos Santos, a Portuguese priest 
stationed at Sofala towards the end of the 
sixteenth century, observed a bird that 
often flew into his wooden church. "There 
is a kind of birds like canary birds, but 
with long tails, which live on wax, and 

search in the wild unfilled places for bee- 
hives, whereof there are many in holes in 
the ground and in hollow trees," Dos 
Santos wrote. "When they find a hive with 
honey in it they go to the highways in 
search of people to lead them to it, which 
they do by going before them and crying 
and beating their wings from bough to 
bough, till they find the hive or bee-hole. 
The natives of this land, who know these 
birds, as soon as they catch sight of them, 
follow them to gather the honey and the 
profit that the birds reap from this is that 
they eat the small pieces and scrapings of 
the wax and honeycomb and the dead 
bees that are left behind. These birds are 
called by the Africans 'sazu' ; they are of 
the same size and almost the same colour 
as a goldfinch and have a long tail. Many 
times they have come in at the windows 
of our church at Sofala, and we have 
found them eating the little pieces of wax 
left in the candlesticks." 

A pretty touch that last one, and one I 
want you to remember. The honey -guide 
may provide the solution to a medical 
mystery, and the wax is important. 

I found another early account of the bird 
in the work of Father Jeronimo Lobo, the 
Jesuit who went to Abyssinia in 1625 as a 
missionary. "The moroc or honey-bird is 
furnished by nature with a peculiar 
instinct or faculty of discovering honey," 
declared Father Lobo. "When the moroc 
has discovered any honey he repairs 
immediately to the roadside, and when he 
sees a traveller, sings and claps his wings, 
making many motions to invite him to 
follow him; and when he perceives his 
coming, flies before him from tree to tree, 
till he comes to the place where the bees 
have stored their treasure, and then begins 
to sing melodiously. The Abyssinian takes 
the honey, without failing to leave part of 
it for the bird, to reward him for his 

Sparrman, who was at the Cape in 1775, 
gave a more detailed description, and 
proved to be an accurate observer. He was 
the first to mention the partnership of the 
bird with the ratel or honey badger, the 
tough killer which is unfortunately as fond 
of sheep as it is of honey. Sometimes the 
ratel is able to reach the wild hive and 
tear it open with its long nails. When it 
fails, it gnaws: and bites the trunk of the 
tree in its rage; and Sparrman noted that 
the Hottentots found these marks useful 
when searching for honey. 

It was a great step forward when the 
honey-guides decided to lead human 
beings, as well as the ratel, to the honey. 
For there were few nests which the 
natives could not reach, whereas the ratel 
must often disappoint the honey-guide. 

Sparrman called the honey-guide cuculus 
indicator or bee-cuckow. There he was 
wrong, though only in recent years have 
the naturalists taken the honey-guides out 
of the cuckoo family and set them up as 

indicatoridae. The mistake arose owing to 
the parasitic habits of the honey-guides 
(which leave their eggs in the nests of 
certain barbets and swallows) and the 
structure of the toes, which resemble the 
cuckoos. Sparrman reported that the 
honey-guide was like the common 
sparrow, but was larger, lighter in colour, 
with a yellow spot on each shoulder. He 
confessed that when he first heard the 
story he regarded it as a fable. This view 
was strengthened by an experience in 
Groot Vaders Bosch in the Swellendam 
district, when he accompanied a lad who 
followed a honey-guide but failed to 
locate any honey. To his surprise, how- 
ever, he confirmed the story later. 

Morning and evening, Sparrman found, 
were the times when the bird showed the 
greatest inclination to give forth its 
greeting cry of "cherr! cherr! cherr!" and 
arouse the attention of the ratel, the 
Hottentots and the colonists. When 
someone joined the bird it would fly on 

slowly towards the plunder, repeating its 
cry continually. It was necessary to take 
great care not to frighten the bird by any 
unusual noise or by going after it in a 
crowd. The Bushmen (or "Boshiesman" 
of Sparrman's narrative) answered the 
bird now and then with a soft and gentle 
whistle by way of letting it know that it 
was still being followed. When the bees- 
nest was far away, the bird made long 
hops, waiting for its companion between 
each flight and calling to him to come on. 
Near the nest the bird repeated its cry 
more often and with greater earnestness. 
When the human being found the ground 
difficult and lagged behind, the bird 
would fly back, show its impatience with 
redoubled cries, and upbraid its follower 
for being so tardy. 

"Finally, when it has come to the bees- 
nest', whether this be built in the cleft of a 
rock, in a hollow tree, or in some cavity in 
the earth," Sparrman wrote, "it hovers 
over the spot for the space of a few 

seconds, a circumstance which I myself 
have been eyewitness of twice. After- 
wards it sits in silence and for the most 
part concealed in some neighbouring tree 
or bush in expectation of what may 
happen, and with a view to coming in for 
a share of the booty." 

Several later observers have complained 
that the honey-guide often fails to indicate 
the exact position of the honey. Sparrman, 
however, insisted that the bird always 
hovered over the nest before hiding itself. 
Moreover, the follower could always; be 
sure that the nest was very near when the 
bird fell silent. 

Sparrman, like Father Lobo, mentioned 
the custom of leaving some of the hive as 
a reward for the bird. He also noted that 
the bird regarded the young bees as the 
most delicate morsels, preferring them to 
the honey. Sparrman wrote: "I was 
informed by my Boshies-men, as well as 
by the Colonists, that a man who makes it 
his constant business to go after the bees 

should not at first be too grateful and 
generous to this officious bird, but leave 
for it only just as much as will serve to 
stimulate its appetite, by which means it 
will be induced, in hopes of obtaining a 
more liberal reward, to discover another 
swarm of bees." 

Sparrman wished to shoot a honey-guide 
for museum purposes, and promised his 
Bushmen glass beads and tobacco if they 
would help him. They refused to betray 
the bird. "It gave me a great pleasure, as it 
showed that these people were in general 
possessed of good and grateful hearts," 
Sparrman commented. 

One point which Sparrman missed was 
the widespread legend suggesting that the 
honey-guide is a treacherous little bird 
which sometimes leads unsuspecting 
humans towards such dangerous creatures 
as snakes, lions, leopards or even 
elephants. Many believe it to this day, and 
they are fortified in their superstition by 

the casualties which have occurred now 
and then while following the honey-guide. 

No doubt the belief arose long ago when 
some hard-hearted native cheated the bird 
out of its share of the honeycomb. Surely, 
it must have been argued, such an 
intelligent bird would find some way of 
revenge. In the days when wild beasts 
were more plentiful the innocent antics of 
the honey-guide must have led its 
followers into danger now and again. So 
the bird was blamed for pure coincidence. 

Layard, the Cape Town museum curator a 
century ago, accepted this libellous story 
at first; but an article he published brought 
contradictions from several parts of the 
country. Mrs. Barber, an observer in the 
Eastern Province, informed Layard that 
her nine brothers were all hunters, and not 
one of them had known the honey-guide 
to act in such a despicable manner. Often 
they had startled various creatures of the 
forests while following the guide; but the 
bird had flown on towards the honey 

without taking any notice of the animal 
which had been disturbed. One of her 
brothers passed through a drove of wild 
pigs in dense forest near the Kowie. The 
frightened pigs rushed madly in every 
direction; but the man, wishing to test the 
popular belief, kept his eye on the honey- 
guide. The bird went on steadily, giving 
out the same call. "There is an alteration 
in the notes of the voice when the honey- 
guide arrives at the hive," Mrs. Barber 
wrote. "The old bee -hunter recognises this 
change at once. Now this alteration is 
never heard when animals are startled 

Nevertheless the legend of the honey- 
guide's revenge is told wherever the bird 
is found. Livingstone the missionary was 
greatly interested in the story, and cross- 
examined more than a hundred of his 
native carriers on this very point. One 
man declared that he had been led to an 
elephant; all the others acquitted the bird 
of any evil motive. Livingstone summed 

up: "I am quite convinced that the 
majority of people who commit 
themselves to its guidance are led to 
honey and to it alone." 

I found in the "Grahamstown Journal" for 
November 1865 a perfect illustration of 
the sort of experience which gave rise to 
the old belief. Four white lads were 
gathering berries in a kloof outside the 
town when they heard the calls of a 
honey-guide and followed it. Instead of a 
hive they found a puff-adder, which they 

Later the bird called again and they were 
led to a cave. The entrance was low, but 
they crawled in and lit a fire, probably so 
that the smoke would protect them from 
the bees they expected to find there. 
"Then a savage growl made the cave 
tremble," reported the newspaper. "They 
saw the fiery eyes and lashing tail of a 
leopard a few feet away. Putting the fire 
between themselves and the leopard, they 

Bushmen of the Kalahari make cautious 
use of the honey-guide. According to their 
folklore, a Bushman followed a honey- 
guide to a bush where a lion was 
crouching. The Bushman escaped by 
throwing his tanned loin cloth to the lion; 
but he lost his bow and arrows and quiver. 
So now the Bushmen are always on guard 
when the bird calls. They follow, but they 
look round every bush for lions. 

Father Jerome da Sorrento, an early 
visitor to the Congo, described the greater 
honey-guide and remarked that it 
sometimes led the natives to a lion. 
Evidently the followers of the guide have 
had unhappy encounters in many 
territories through the centuries. 

A honey-guide will sometimes lead to a 
dead animal. Delegorgue, the French 
naturalist, observed this habit in South 
Africa and declared that the bird became 
interested in feeding on the flies and 
maggots and forgot the original quest for 

Major E. L. Haydock, an ornithologist 
living in Northern Rhodesia, investigated 
the allegation of the honey-guide's 
treachery. Reliable natives informed him 
that when the bird led to a lion or leopard, 
the animal was always asleep. Flies 
hovering over the animal might be 
mistaken for bees by the honey-guide - a 
dangerous mistake, but certainly not 

Of course it is possible that the follower 
might stumble upon a lion and the bees' 
nest at the same moment. He would be 
more likely to remember the lion than the 
bees, and the poor honey-guide would be 

Certain tribes in Rhodesia relate a piece of 
folklore to account for the honey-guide's 
habits. The bird went in search of a wife 
in Beetown, and the bees first provided 
one and then took her away. "All right 
then - I shall go and tell tales about you to 
all the people who pass along the road," 
threatened the honey guide. And he still 

carries out his threat, as the bees know to 
their cost. 

Bambemba tribesmen of Northern 
Rhodesia carry the heart of a honey-guide 
with other medicines in a horn when 
seeking honey. They will kill honey- 
guides only for this purpose, and inflict 
severe penalties for wanton killing. 

Although the story of the honey-guide and 
the ratel is well-established, few white 
people have ever seen the two working 
together. Doubt has been cast on it owing 
to the fact that the ratel is regarded as a 
nocturnal animal, whereas the honey- 
guide never operates after dusk. However, 
it has been proved that the ratel does 
come out in daylight, and that it is capable 
of climbing trees. 

In the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, 
there is an unpublished notebook kept by 
the celebrated Dr. W. G. Atherstone, the 
man who identified the first South African 
diamond. A settler named Holden Bowker 

informed Dr. Atherstone in 1853 that he 
had shot a ratel robbing one of his 
beehives placed in a tree twelve feet 
above the ground. Bowker added that he 
thought the guiding habit of the honey- 
guide "probably originated with the ratel, 
who climbs trees to get nests and leaves 
the comb scattered about where the 
Indicator eats either the grub or the wax." 

The same valuable notebook records the 
experience of a farmer named Oosthuizen 
at Bushman's River who once "saw a 
ratel following a honey bird and making 
the same grunt that a Hottentot does." 

Sir Robert Tredgold, Chief Justice of 
Southern Rhodesia, is one of the few 
living observers who have watched this 
partnership. He was at Inyati, forty miles 
from Salisbury, when he heard the 
grunting of a ratel and the chatter of a 
honey-guide. The sounds came closer, 
until he was able to identify an adult 
honey-guide ( Indicator indicator) 
definitely leading a ratel. The ratel kept 

responding with a gutteral growl 
whenever the bird gave its chatter call. 
Unfortunately the ratel caught sight of Sir 
Robert and fled, so that the bees' nest 
remained untouched. 

Haydock collected evidence of honey- 
guides calling to baboons and monkeys. 
Sometimes the baboons followed, but the 
monkeys could never be persuaded. 
Haydock also saw a mongoose turning a 
deaf ear to the bird. Baboons rob a hive by 
making a dash, seizing what honey they 
can lay hands on, and then waiting until 
the bees have calmed down before raiding 
the comb again. 

Natives of the Eastern Province say that 
when the honey-guide is approaching a 
hive it will nod its head in the right 
direction and point with its beak. It gives 
warning of the presence of a wild animal 
by making a whirring noise with its 
wings. Zulus call the honey-guide the 
"talkative, scolding woman". 

Mr. R. B. Woosman, who watched the 
honey-guide in the Ngami area of 
Bechuanaland, stated that the bird often 
came into his camp to find a helper. He 
had followed the bird as far as half a mile 
before reaching the honey. The bird 
would wait until he was within twenty 
yards of it and then dart off again. Some- 
times a bird would fly into the very tree in 
which the hive was situated, perching for 
a moment close to the hole and chattering 
loudly. Then, as the man came up, the 
bird would go into hiding and remain 
silent. Mr. Woosman tried to observe the 
honey-guide enjoying its reward, but he 
was never successful. As long as he was 
there the bird kept to its hiding-place. 

Sir John Kirk, the Scottish doctor and 
naturalist who accompanied Livingstone' s 
second expedition, was another keen 
observer of the honey-guide. He found 
that when a man disappointed the bird by 
following for a time and then turning 
away, the bird would come back and offer 

to point out a different hive in another 
area. "It will point to tame bees in a bark 
hive as readily as forest bees," Kirk 
recorded. "The object the bird has in view 
is clearly young bees. It will guide to a 
nest containing no honey, and is delighted 
with a comb containing the grubs." 

It is clear from reports of many observers 
that the honey-guide is a dogged, 
persistent, nagging little bird. One man 
walked deliberately for several miles in 
the opposite direction to that indicated, 
but the bird kept flying at him, twittering 
incessantly. It will circle a wagon with 
shrill cries, almost dashing into the face of 
the driver. 

Apparently the guiding is done only by 
the male bird. Mr. C. J. Skead of the 
Kaffrarian Museum noted "call sites" 
where a male honey-guide took up its post 
day after day for certain months every 
year. It remained there, whistling "vic-tor! 
vic-tor! vic-tor!" so loudly that it could be 
heard nine hundred yards away. One bird 

relieved another at the site, and females 
visited the males stationed there. Strange 
behaviour which observers noted at the 
call site included "rustle flights". A bird 
would fly in circles, making dramatic 
upward and downward sweeps, uttering 
loud "whurrs" and then diving in 
spectacular fashion back to its perch. No 
one has accounted for this display. 

Tough skins and inner eyelids protect the 
honey-guides from bee-stings. (The ratel, 
too, has a skin which is hard to penetrate.) 
A peculiarity of the young honey-guide is 
the pair of hooks on the end of the bill. 
These drop off in the course of time; and 
there is a theory that the purpose is to grip 
and eject unwanted birds from the nest. 

By the way, there is a point to remember 
if ever you follow the honey-guide and 
loot a comb of wild honey. This honey 
differs to some extent from "tame" honey 
in that it raises a tremendous thirst. Eat 
sparingly, and see that your water-bottle is 

Sparrman drew attention to a mystery 
which has not yet been solved. He said 
that while there were plenty of wild bees 
round about Cape Town, the honey-guide 
in the Peninsula did not indicate the hives. 
People in Cape Town knew nothing of the 
bird or its peculiar habits. 

Dr. J. M. Winterbottom, author of recent 
field handbooks on South African birds, 
told me that Sparrman' s statement still 
held good. Sparrman' s honey-guide and 
the lesser honey-guide were both found in 
the Cape Peninsula, but no one had 
reported guiding habits. 

It seems that the honey-guide is moved to 
act as guide only in natural forests. It must 
have guided Van Riebeeck's men in the 
very early days, when the Peninsula was 
heavily wooded. Later it gave up the 
habit. There are still patches of forest, 
such as Kirstenbosch, where the honey- 
guide has been identified; but the 
unmistakable guiding call is heard no 

Dr. Herbert Friedmann, curator of birds at 
the Smithsonian Institution in 
Washington, D.C., has an explanation of 
this mystery. He is the greatest living 
authority on the honey-guides, and has 
followed the birds in many parts of 
Southern Africa. He has put forward a 
theory of "associative memory". At 
various times the honey-guide observes 
animals and men opening the nests of the 
wild bees and eating the honey. In the 
course of time it comes to associate the 
sight of these animal and human raiders 
with bees' nests; and so at last the bird 
appears to be excited whenever it sees the 
honey gatherers. 

Now suppose you go to an area (such as 
the Cape Peninsula) where the ratel does 
not exist and man has long ago given up 
the search for wild honey. The honey- 
guide cannot possibly associate animals or 
humans with bees in such areas, and so it 
does not guide. There must be continuity. 
In less civilised areas the natives help to 

arouse the "associative memory" of the 
bird, imitating the grunt of the ratel and 
hitting the trees as though they were 
chopping open the bees' nests. Such help 
is not essential, however, as the birds 
often approach the humans without any 

Friedmann does not credit the honey- 
guide with any purpose or the ability to 
plan. Many examples of one animal 
attracting another of a different species in 
a feeding relationship are to be found in 
the world of nature. The European robin 
approaches certain animals, and humans, 
in the hope that they will scare up insects. 
Like the honey-guide, it has displaced 
wild mammals by humans. The change is 
not so dramatic as it appears to the 
onlookers. And the behaviour of the 
honey-guide, which seems to be so 
intelligent, is really on an instinctive level. 

According to Friedmann, the honey-guide 
may or may not know where it is going. 
One careful observer followed a honey- 

guide for more than four miles, measuring 
the circuitous route afterwards. He found 
honey all right, but the nest was only half 
a mile from the point where the bird had 
first called to him. Obviously the bird was 
gambling on the chance of sighting bees. 

My friend Walter Hoesch, companion on 
a scientific expedition into the Kaokoveld, 
author of the standard work on the birds 
of South West Africa, has a theory of his 
own about the honey-guide. He thinks that 
ages ago the honey-guide learnt to regard 
the bees as enemies, because of their 
stings. Thus the bird gives warning to this 
day of the presence of wild animals, 
snakes - and bees ! In guiding men to these 
enemies, the honey-guide hoped to see the 
enemies eliminated. The honey and the 
comb were mere details in which the bird 
was not greatly interested. 

Hoesch' s theory is not accepted by other 
ornithologists. Nevertheless, it is a fact 
that the honey-guides could not live on 
the honeycomb, wax and dead bees which 

are left after they have led their followers 
successfully to a hive. They have other 
ways of securing wax and other insects to 
keep themselves going. 

Hoesch points out that birds usually lead 
humans away from something - 
especially from their nests or their young. 
He emphasises the strangeness of a bird 
reversing the process and leading towards 
something. In his long career as bird- 
watcher he can remember only one other 
example; when two rollers led him with 
cries of excitement to a genet caught in a 
trap. Hoesch holds the view that the 
behaviour of the honey-guide was 
originally due to a state of excitement 
caused by a dangerous enemy, and that 
this excitement made it lead the human 
towards that enemy. 

Africa has nine species of honey-guide, 
some extremely rare. All nine species 
have been located in the Belgian Congo. 
Friedmann believes that the family dates 
back to the time when the forest animals 

of Africa and India were more closely 
related. (There is evidence of a land 
bridge, now submerged, in the Indian 
Ocean.) One species of honey-guide is 
found in the Himalayas and another in the 
East Indies. These oriental birds, however, 
do not seem to exhibit the guiding 
impulse. The origin of the honey-guide is 
still a riddle. Although it is of great 
antiquity in Asia, it is possible that the 
bird evolved in Africa. 

Among the Congo species is the lyre- 
tailed honey-guide, which is so rare that 
museum collectors were unable to secure 
a single specimen between 1915 and 
1941. This bird makes a nasal "tooting" 
noise. Observers heard the call occasion- 
ally, but could not catch a glimpse of the 
bird. Mambuti pygmies knew it and called 
it amazeke; but though they were great 
hunters of honey, they declared that the 
bird had never helped them. 

The lyre-tailed honey-guide dives noisily 
out of the sky with tail spread, uttering 

siren-like notes. Natives in Gabun trapped 
a female at last for the American Museum 
of Natural History. They used honeycomb 

It is thought that the honey-guides of the 
Congo have not yet reached the stage of 
calling on man as an accomplice. They 
may be using squirrels and monkeys. 

Rarest of all the honey-guides, perhaps, is 
Wahlberg's sharp billed honey-guide. 
This has been recorded in Abyssinia, in 
West Africa, and on a few occasions in 
South Africa; but the late Dr. Austin 
Roberts, a great field ornithologist, only 
saw it once in his life, in a Pretoria 
garden. The bird utters a "zeet zeet" cry in 
flight. It is probably a migrant. 

Do you remember the honey-guides that 
flew into the church at Sofala centuries 
ago and ate the wax from the 
candlesticks? Friedmann discovered in the 
honey-guide's stomach a digestive 
process which may lead to a new method 

of treating tuberculosis. The bird is 
obviously able to digest beeswax with 
very great ease. 

Dr. Friedmann asked himself whether this 
process might not be adapted to dissolve 
the waxy coating which makes the 
tuberculosis bacillus so hard to conquer. 

Research at Washington has proved that 
the honey-guide possesses two micro- 
organisms in the intestinal tract. Now 
these birds are parasitic, as we have seen. 
They cannot acquire the micro-organisms 
from their parents or foster parents; thus 
they must pick them up from the wild 
honeycomb. Analysis of the comb has 
revealed the organisms. One day, perhaps, 
the noisy little honey-guide will be the 
hero of a fresh advance in the treatment of 

Chapter 20 

Secrets Of Solitude 

ONCE I spent a month on a lonely isle, 
hoping that someone would tell me the 
secrets of that solitude. On the last day I 
walked along the highest ridge, three 
peaks in swirling mist, peaks still clothed 
with ferns and gumwood and cabbage 
trees. I thought that I had torn the heart 
out of the place. From this primeval forest 
the island looked more dramatic than 
ever, a landscape of basalt needles and 
volcanic precipices, giving a feeling of 
insecurity. Dutch settlers knew this place 

well, and in their day it was covered with 
forest. Some of the trees and plants were 
found nowhere else in the world. A few 
rarities are still there, but man and the 
goats have taken most of them. The ocean 
is empty, for there is no land closer than 
seven hundred miles, and Africa is more 
than a thousand miles to the east. You 
have your bearings now? This is, perhaps, 
the oldest land mass on the face of the 
globe. Darwin revelled in it. These queer 
plants, the living insects and fossils, are 
links in the chain of creation. This is St. 
Helena, a fragment left in mid-ocean from 
the wreck of ancient world. "No other 
spot in the world is of such interest to the 
naturalist," wrote the scientist Melliss. 

Always my imagination has been gripped 
more firmly by the solitudes than the 
cities. I am no hermit, and often enough I 
long for remembered pleasures in Europe 
and the Americas. Yet always there comes 
a time when I find myself planning 
another journey to some far and lonely 

place. In solitude, perhaps, we are more 
likely to discover what is within us. Yes, 
one finds wisdom in solitude, and a 
philosophy of life which the pavement 
crowds might not understand. 

So now I was leaving another solitude. 
Many of my island friends were on board 
the Union Castle ship which took me 
away. They were different; happier and 
more excited than ever I had seen them on 
shore. In the liner's shop they were like 
children, buying avidly all those little 
things which were unknown in St. 
Helena's shops. They chatted over their 
drinks vivaciously, and because I was 
going away they told me island secrets 
they had never mentioned to me before. 
Certainly they enjoyed the ship's dinner 
of many courses, and the cinema on the 
aft deck. Once a month they took their 
dose of this exhilarating tonic, once a 
month when the liner called, and it 
seemed to me that there were some who 

would have fared badly without it. But 
what nostalgia did the tonic arouse? 

Full moon at St. Helena that night, and for 
a long time I stood at my porthole gazing 
at the cliffs, the threatening, stupendous 
cliffs. Sometime in the night the anchor 
came up. It was farewell to Rock Rose 
and Rose Hill, Old Woman's Valley and 
Warren's Gut, Lazy Point and Bencoolen, 
Farm Lodge and Friar's Valley. And I lay 
there thinking of the day I had seen this 
lonely isle for the first time. 

Fires were blazing along the water's edge 
from Prosperous Bay to Lemon Valley as 
my ship came round the steep coastline 
before dawn. These were the fires of the 
weekend fishermen who descend the bare 
and sombre precipices for a thousand, 
fifteen hundred feet with spikes and ropes 
to hook the conger eel, mackerel, silver 
fish and the delicious bull's-eye for their 
families. A risky game, especially when 
the men climb homewards with their 
sacks loaded. But they need the food, and 

the St. Helena fish species are among the 
finest in the world. 

At first glance St. Helena makes you 
shudder. (I had the same forebodings as I 
approached the still more remote island of 
Tristan da Cunha many years ago.) 
Seldom do the high, bird-haunted cliffs of 
St. Helena open to reveal the soft, rich 
farmlands, the quiet cottages and sedate 
mansions of the interior. It seems a prison, 
though behind the steep walls there is a 
little, isolated district of forty-seven 
square miles which has the charm of the 
old English countryside; the charm of last 
century, when a cottage was a true 

As your ship comes up to the north-west 
coast anchorage off Jamestown you begin 
to observe the real St. Helena. Jamestown 
holds more of the strong meat of history, I 
think, than any other town in Britain's 
colonial possessions. You sense history in 
the old gun emplacements and powder 
magazines along the waterfront; in the 

seventeenth-century English castle with 
its moat, barring the valley. It is a scene 
already familiar to every collector who 
has studied the island's pictorial stamps. 

Facing the town you behold a sheer 
precipice on each side, Munden's Hill on 
the east, Ladder Hill on the west. At sea 
level these hills open out to one-fifth of a 
mile, and the gap is filled by the sea wall 
and the Castle battlements. Over the old 
parapet you see the St. James's Church 
spire, with a metal fish instead of a 
weathercock. You glimpse the town in the 
narrow, triangular valley, white houses 
and great trees. Gaze long enough, and 
you are sure to see someone coming down 
the famous Jacob's Ladder of seven 
hundred steps linking the valley with the 
higher parts of the island. 

"It's a noice lil oiland sir - but only us 
needs a bit more money." My boatman 
told me that in the nasal island twang 
while he was rowing me to the wharf. It is 
a fair summary of St. Helena from the 

Jamestown holds more of the strong meat of history, I think than any other town in Britain's eolonial 


islander's point of view, and a good 
example of island speech. 
I declared a bottle of French brandy and a 
bottle of sherry which I had bought at low 
sea prices on board the Union-Castle ship. 
"You're allowed one bottle free," smiled 
the Customs officer. "I'll charge you on 
the wine, because the duty is lower." I 
thought that was a pleasant welcome to 
the island. Then I drove to my hotel in 
Main Street. 

At first glance, the Consulate Hotel in 
Jamestown gives no hint of the exotic 
meals which are daily contrived for its 
guests. True, the islander who leases the 
old building, Mr. George Moyce, has a 
girth which is obviously a tribute to the 
work of his wife and the cook, Mrs. 
Richards, in the old-fashioned kitchen. 
The hotel is a relic of the days of St. 
Helena's glory. The atmosphere reminded 
me vaguely, for some reason, of 
Schomberg's Hotel, the queer place in 
Surabaya which Joseph Conrad described 

so well in "Victory". Schomberg's had a 
garden, with large trees. And the 
Consulate has avocado pears and paw- 
paw, lemons and oranges, mango and 
banana trees growing in the courtyard; 
and a little beer garden with oil-drums 
serving as tables and asters and geraniums 
in tins. Fowls and chickens roam among 
the tables. 

Moyce, wearing singlet and white shorts, 
led me round the hotel. When he stepped 
out on to the rickety balcony overlooking 
Main Street I feared an accident; but he 
knew his own weight and avoided the 
weak planks. Moyce also sketched his 
career from the time he left the island as a 
cabin-boy during World War I. He had 
served as cook in the old cable ship 
Britannia, and risen to chief steward of the 
cable mess on Ascension Island. Now he 
was giving the experience of a lifetime of 
catering to the Consulate guests. 

"Why the Consulate?" I asked Moyce and 
many others on the island, but no one 

could give me a convincing answer. It had 
been an hotel, under different names, for a 
long time and there was no record of a 
consul ever having lived there. Some said 
that (like Schomberg's) it had once been a 
brothel, but that was almost inevitable in a 
town which had known as many sailors as 
Jamestown. Let me hasten to add that 
during all this century at least the 
Consulate has had a blameless reputation. 
Only on days when the mail boat calls are 
the police brought in occasionally to 
remove a ship's steward from the bar. 

George Moyce's bar looks after itself 
most of the time. You will always find a 
dozen bottles of beer on the counter, and 
some gin and a bitters shaker under the 
counter. Everyone knows the prices. Just 
help yourself and leave the money in the 
ash-tray. As you drink, you are at liberty 
to ponder over the wisdom of the framed 
motto that Moyce has provided for his 
patrons: "Don't marry for money, you can 
borrow it cheaper." 

I never found any of the Chambertin, the 
famous burgundy that Napoleon loved, in 
the Consulate cellar; or the Bordeaux 
claret that was his second choice. I had to 
be content with a dry white wine from the 
Cape; which reminded me that Napoleon 
found consolation during his last days in a 
glass of Constantia and a biscuit. 

Along one side of the courtyard at the 
Consulate runs a wooden gallery, as shaky 
as the front balcony. Nevertheless, this is 
the gangway to the bathrooms. Every 
morning I found Moyce feeding dry 
banana leaves into the furnaces of the 
geysers. One morning, looking over the 
side of my bath, I observed that the 
oilcloth on the bathroom floor had moved. 
Through a hole the size of a saucer I could 
spy Mrs. Richards, in the kitchen below, 
frying eggs and bacon. 

It is hard to discover a restful sofa or 
armchair at the Consulate, for the 
furniture all goes back to a period which 
was neither comfortable nor artistic. 

Passages are dark. The whole hotel is 
noisy, and I am not referring now to the 
tomcats that give battle at midnight in 
Main Street, or the calling of the mynah 
birds at dawn. Yet I liked the Consulate. 
George Moyce charged only four guineas 
a week, an incredible rate in November 
1954, and that may have had something to 
do with it. But that was not the whole 
story. There was a pleasant atmosphere 
about the place, and I began to appreciate 
it on the first day, when I sat down to a 
good lunch of deep water jack, island 
lamb, roast potatoes, cabbage, peas and 

I was served mainly by children. Marion, 
the shy, pretty, light skinned waitress, 
could not have been more than fourteen. 
Small boys made my bed and brought 
jugs of hot water to my room. Moyce 
looked after the bathroom geysers 
himself. I think he knew that the small 
boys would have blown up the hotel for 

Often in the afternoon I would hear 
cheerful sounds in the courtyard. There 
would be a retired Indian Army officer 
bowling, one of the small boys of the 
hotel batting, and Mrs. Richards and 
Marion sitting on a bench outside the 
kitchen watching the game. Moyce was 
always too busy to take part. He had a 
small soda and lemonade factory and a 
photographic business opening off the 
courtyard. Farther down Main Street he 
had just taken a house and turned it into a 
billiard and ping-pong saloon. He owned 
two cars which were for hire. He had also 
bought a travelling cinema so that he 
could take the talkies to the far corners of 
the island. And he had the first shop in 
Jamestown, on the right after you have 
crossed the moat and passed through the 
old gateway. 

I called on Moyce in his shop one day, out 
of curiosity, to see what he could offer. 
That was the only shop I ever visited 
where new-laid eggs were displayed on 

the counter in a shining enamel chamber. 
Moyce was frying fish rissoles for the 
Saturday trade, when the country people 
come into town to do their shopping. You 
cannot go far in Jamestown without 
encountering fish in some form or other. 

One shop in Jamestown I shall always 
remember is Mrs. George's pharmacy in 
Market Street. Her husband died in 1899, 
after only two years of marriage. "I had to 
carry on the business without any training, 
and the doctor helped me," said Mrs. 
George. "Every time I made up a 
prescription I went about it as carefully as 
though I was baking a cake, and I never 
poisoned anyone." Mrs. George, at eighty- 
six, was still sitting at a table in front of 
the old-fashioned, massive counter when I 
called. She stared at the huge bottles of 
green and red liquid which were there in 
her husband's day, and the dozens of 
drawers and bottles of old drugs, 
untouched for decades. I left her weighing 

out sixpence worth of boracic powder for 
a fisherman. She had courage. 

Most historians, scientists and other 
authors of St. Helena literature pay little 
or no attention to the islanders. It is 
surprising to find that even the authors of 
standard works on St. Helena such as J. C. 
Melliss and Philip Gosse give little space 
to the people. 

I came to regard the St. Helena people as 
one of the most fascinating of the small, 
isolated races I have encountered. People 
who know the island will agree with me, I 
think, when I say that these islanders form 
the most friendly and pleasant coloured 
race on earth. 

When the less educated islanders are 
talking among themselves it is often 
impossible to follow a word of it. Through 
the centuries they have built up a fast- 
spoken English dialect more formidable 
than anything heard in the British Isles, 
and understood only by St. Helenans. 

People landing on the island for the first 
time listen to this gibberish in wonder and 
ask: "What language do they talk here?" 
When they are informed that it is English, 
and that the islanders have never spoken 
any other language, they will not believe 

Governor Harford spoke to me of the St. 
Helena people as "coloured English". An 
earlier official described them as "English 
by race, environment and upbringing". He 
added that they ranked as though born in 
England, and that English was the only 
language spoken on the island. I agree 
with the spirit of these assertions, but they 
are not entirely correct in detail. 

Melliss, back in the 'seventies of last 
century, wrote of the islanders as people 
of Portuguese, Dutch, English, Malay, 
East Indies and Chinese descent. He was a 
botanist rather than a historian. Neither 
the Portuguese nor the Dutch left anyone 
behind when they abandoned the island. 
All sorts of people, including Malagasy 

and Chinese, have gone into the island 
melting pot, but the predominant blend is 
British and Indian. Possibly a hundred of 
the present-day islanders have such light 
complexions that even in South Africa 
their European status would not be 
questioned. But the smiling island faces 
vary in colour from white to negroid 
blackness. There is an African strain 
which goes back to the slave days. 
Marriages between islanders and African 
slaves were rare, however, and the typical 
African darkness, woolly hair and negro 
features are uncommon. 

Slavery came to St. Helena soon after 
1659, when the English East India 
Company sent an expedition very much 
like Van Riebeeck's enterprise of the 
same period. Ships of the English 
Company sailed to Madagascar for slaves, 
and every such vessel calling at St. Helena 
was obliged to leave one slave male or 
female as the Governor chose. Dr. John 
Fryer of Cambridge found four hundred 

English men, women and children there 
when he called towards the end of the 
seventeenth century. Posters appeared on 
London hoardings urging people to settle 
in this island paradise; and among those 
who responded were some victims of the 
Great Fire of London. Shiploads of young 
women were recruited, and they were 
promised a free return passage to England 
"unless otherwise disposed of after one 
year. But it was a long time before the 
settlers and their descendants became 
reconciled to island life. Dampier the 
buccaneer wrote: "Several of our men 
were head and ears in love with the Santa 
Hellena maids, who tho' they were born 
there, yet very earnestly desired to be 
released from that prison. The young 
women are but one remove from English, 
being the daughters of such. They are well 
shaped, proper and comely, were they in a 
dress to set them off." 

West African negroes did not reach St. 
Helena in any numbers until 1840, when 

the Vice-Admiralty Court was set up for 
the trial of slavers. Three depots were 
established for "liberated Africans" as 
they were called. Employers on the island, 
farmers and merchants, engaged a number 
of ex-slaves of both sexes. Many liberated 
Africans went on to the West Indies 
where there was a labour shortage. Others 
became so fond of their St. Helena 
employers that they remained on the 
island. A number assumed the names of 
their masters, according to slave custom. 
You also find many typical slave names to 
this day; the Scipios and Catos of 
Longwood, the Caesars of Sandy Bay, an 
Augustus here and Mercury there. 
Pompey appears to have died out. 
Wellington, an ex-slave who lived until 
the end of last century, was a famous 
cook, and so tall that he was nicknamed 
Duke of Wellington. There was a Lord 
Nelson, too, and a Waterwitch who took 
the name of the ship which released him 
from slavery. Melliss said that by 1875 

the ex-slaves formed one-sixth of the total 
population. Nevertheless, they did not mix 
with the islanders, and in three decades 
only six intermarriages were recorded. 

There was an agricultural show soon after 
my arrival, and I saw the luscious island 
vegetables set out in booths made of wild 
ginger and bamboo. There, too, I listened 
to the dialect as the enthusiastic people 
went from one exhibit to another: School 
children had filled a stall with flowers and 
vegetables they had grown, and I was just 
able to follow one father who declared: 
"Don't ferget the young people. This, the 
young people's done it. I see they got it 
good and snug. They're only young, see." 

Then there was the boy of about thirteen 
who remarked to his companions: "Us go 
look for bull bull." 

A schoolmaster from England told me that 
the island dialect is less grammatical than 
most dialects, with a limited vocabulary. 
Few people are unable to read and write 

nowadays, but the standard of literacy is 
low. Even on this small island, the 
districts have their own accents; 
Jamestown is different from Longwood, 
and Blue Hill from Sandy Bay. Islanders 
declare that each district has also 
produced its own physical types, and that 
they can tell at a glance where any person 
was born on the island. Certainly the hard- 
working country people are quiet and 
simple. They are credited with greater 
honesty than the townsfolk. I cannot see 
how this is possible, for no report of any 
form of theft committed during the month 
I was in Jamestown reached my ears. 

Everyone notices the way St. Helena 
islanders use the Sam Weller accent 
transposing "V" and "W" like the 
Cockney from Dickens. "She vore a 
weil," I heard one woman say. Possibly 
this peculiarity goes back all the way to 
the homeless Cockney settlers who went 
to St. Helena after the Great Fire of 

London. There is also a touch of Devon in 
the mixed speech of this mixed race. 

Two old women were quarrelling in a 
back street in Jamestown. One poured out 
abuse, the other listened and then had her 
say. "Is you done done? Veil, all what you 
says I is, you is." 

A resident who was born and educated in 
England and had spent sixty years in St. 
Helena told me that the islanders had 
become far more fluent and less shy 
during his years on the island. When he 
first arrived, he was conscious of being 
watched from behind doors and shutters. 
He could imagine them talking after he 
had passed. "Who dat? Who it is? What 
he say? What he done? " 

Education has taken away most of the 
rawness. They have moved on, decade 
after decade, away from slavery. Most of 
the master and slave complex is 
vanishing, though many islanders still 
appear to be afraid to express an opinion. 

And they are so used to saying "sir" and 
"ma'am" that they use the term among 
themselves, in their own way. Often a girl 
will address an older woman as "sir". 

Occasionally they invent words, with 
amusing results. A newcomer entered into 
an agreement with an islander about some 
work to be done, and suggested putting it 
into writing. "All right," said the islander, 
"only I'll leave the wordification to you." 

One island phrase that will always linger 
in my mind is the rendering of "in the old 
days". They all say: "In the before days." 

Among the poorest class, such as the 
fishermen, you can still hear the 
unadulterated St. Helena lingo. Here is an 
impression of a fisherman talking to a 
visitor on the wharf: "Dere was stunting 
say bout Govinmint ought to send for nets 
and men to sho how to ketch fish. Tcha! 
man, foolish ... us can ketch fish better 
den orrer fellers. You know, sir, when us 
get gude luck and plentee fish and tinks 

for once will get couple shillings dem 
wimmin in fish market stick up fer price. 
When peepil see plentee fish and price 
high they buy little tinking bum-bye 
cheap. Us poor fishmin get werry little." 

A noteworthy achievement is the 
"shouting language" which the islanders 
have evolved to make their voices carry to 
the limit across the deep valleys. "Ahoy!" 
is the calling up sign. The system is found 
in a different form on Gomera in the 
Canaries, where the islanders whistle 
messages over the valleys. 

St. Helena is an island of nicknames. This 
is inevitable where so many people bear 
the same surnames; but the island 
nicknames have a humour of their own. I 
met men called Conger-Kidneys, Fish- 
cakes, Candles, Bo'sun, Biffer and 
Bumper. Dollar Clark came to the hotel to 
cut my hair. Cheese Thomas is a member 
of a cricket team. Thomas is the surname 
most often encountered in St. Helena, and 
one member of the family remarked to 

me: "T'row a stone an' you hit a 
Thomas." There is a girl called Pumpkin 
and a man known as Blossom. When a 
husband gains a nickname, it is liable to 
be applied to all the rest of the family. 
Thus you find Jack o' Clubs Benjamin out 
for a walk with his wife Gertie Clubs and 
his son Cyril Clubs. I also remember a 
deaf mute, the best plumber on the island, 
known as Dumb Boy. 

Belief in witchcraft and the "evil eye" 
survives in St. Helena as it does in remote 
English villages. Superstition is found in 
many shapes. Farm hands still peer into 
bowls of water in the hope that the faces 
of their enemies will be revealed. 

The great Charles Darwin liked the 
islanders and their gentle ways, but 
deplored their diet of rice with a little salt 
meat. "The low wages tell heavily on the 
poor people," he remarked. Rice has 
become a luxury on St. Helena now, and 
the diet has changed to fish and potatoes, 

bread and tea, with a variety of local 
dishes for special occasions. 

St. Helena began parting sorrowfully with 
her sons soon after that evil day when the 
generous Honourable East India 
Company, which had ruled for nearly two 
centuries, handed over the island to the 
British Government. In the economy cam- 
paign which followed, old servants of the 
Company lost their incomes and the time 
came when former senior officers could 
be seen tilling the soil beside their old 
negro servants to keep body and soul 
together. As far back as 1838 the first 
body of islanders emigrated to the Cape. 
Hundreds followed from time to time until 
a few years ago, when the Union 
Government refused to admit any more 

In the whaling days many islanders 
shipped as seamen in the American 
"spauters". Some found new homes in 
New Bedford and other whaling ports, 
and became prosperous American 

business men. The legacies they left to 
poor relations in St. Helena were greatly 
appreciated. More recently some young 
men and hundreds of girls have settled in 
Britain. The men seem to be drawn back 
to the island more often than the women. 

I was told that no coloured islander had 
ever gained a university degree. Through 
sheer lack of opportunity, no St. Helenan 
has become a doctor. In business the 
honest islanders are seen at their best. All 
over the island you find little grocery 
shops, stocked with South African tinned 
fish and English biscuits and jams. Not 
long ago an old grocer died intestate. 
They were searching his tiny shop for a 
will when they discovered fifteen 
thousand golden sovereigns. This island 
keeps its secrets. 

St. Helena has its old families with 
remarkable histories, but there are very 
few survivors of the seventeenth century 
settlers. You find the old names on the 
map, of course; Francis Plain where all 

the islanders meet for sport and 
agricultural shows; Lufkin's Towers, now 
the official home of the island's surgeon; 
Billy Birch precipice where the old settler 
of that name was killed; Chubb' s Spring 
which supplies Jamestown; Seale's Flat, 
Hunt's Gutt and Cason's Gate. I believe 
there is still a Bagley, however, 
descendant of the Orlando Bagley who, in 
1694 was foreman of the jury which tried 
the black slaves who had conspired to kill 
all the white people on the island. 

Fortunes have been made by St. Helena 
islanders, men who had never seen the 
world beyond their own cliffs. Perhaps the 
Thorpe family is the most astounding 
example of business ability flourishing on 
a lonely island. 

The original Thorpe appears to have been 
a Yorkshireman who arrived in St. Helena 
about the middle of last century as a 
private soldier and married an island 
woman of Indian or Malay descent. The 
old soldier died a poor man, but his son 

William amassed a large fortune. He had 
ten sons and two daughters. Four sons still 
live in St. Helena, but not one of them 
could tell me how their father took the 
first step towards wealth. This is a gap 
with which I am perfectly familiar, for it 
occurs in the lives of most wealthy men. 
No one knows how they made the first 
thousand pounds. Yet I can hazard a 

Down on the Jamestown waterfront, when 
William Thorpe was a young man, they 
were breaking up old wooden slave ships 
which had been captured by the Royal 
Navy. These ships were sheathed in 
copper plates, and a great deal of this 
scrap metal came into Thorpe's posses- 
sion. William Thorpe next bought up two 
sailing ships which arrived at St. Helena 
in distress. Thus he secured the ship for a 
few hundred pound instead of many 

One of them was the French barque 
Meridian. She was patched and sent to 

Ascension Island to load guano. There is a 
little rock called Boatswain Bird Islet at 
Ascension, and this was covered with 
thousands of tons of guano. Thorpe had 
seventy men at work for months scraping 
off this valuable deposit. Then the 
Meridian sailed on to London where ship 
and cargo were sold. Guano was fetching 
twelve pounds a ton at that time. The 
other ship, Royal Harry, had been 
condemned; yet when Thorpe sent her off 
to the West Indies to load coconuts she 
hardly made an inch of water all the way. 
She, too, was sold at a high price. 
Meanwhile a dispute which had arisen 
between Thorpe and the British Admiralty 
over the guano concession was settled 
with an award to Thorpe of sixty thousand 

Thorpe sent two of his sons to sea before 
the mast. He preferred to spend most of 
his own life in St. Helena, where all his 
ventures turned to gold. Once he financed 
a tramway scheme in Japan, however, and 

made a huge profit. He also fitted out the 
schooner Alert to trade with ships which 
would otherwise have passed St. Helena 
without buying anything. Thorpe's 
schooner carried fresh meat, vegetables 
and eggs; and the ships he intercepted 
often broached their cargoes in their 
eagerness to secure such luxuries. Thus 
the schooner returned with bags of 
Australian grain and other cargoes worth 
many times the value of the fresh 

William Thorpe's long life ended in 
tragedy about a quarter of a century ago. 
He had quarrelled with one of his sons, 
and he was walking home in a blind rage 
when he fell over a cliff. His will 
contained peculiar clauses, and he insisted 
upon the wives of his sons spending half 
their time on St. Helena or losing certain 
portions of the huge estate. I was told that 
three of his sons inherited £140,000; and 
there is no taxation worth mentioning on 
the island. 

The sons, I am bound to add, chose 
orthodox careers of unquestionable 
honesty. One who came off badly in the 
matter of his legacy introduced the first 
cinema into St. Helena. He now organises 
the parties of St. Helena girls who leave 
by every mail boat to go into domestic 
service in England. Lovely estates with 
fine old homes, in and out of Jamestown; 
are owned by surviving Thorpe brothers. 
One of them is a great traveller who has 
seen the world and is now spending his 
old age in his island home. 

Napoleon once remarked that the only 
good thing about St. Helena was the 
coffee. It is admirable coffee; but I 
discovered a number of other good things 
which the unhappy Emperor must have 
enjoyed before his health failed. There 
ought to be a St. Helena cookery book by 
some exiled Mrs. Beeton, marooned on 
this fragrant crumb of earth and making 
the best of it magnificently. As no one 
seems to have said much about the food 

since Napoleon's day I will give you my 
impressions of this lonely island larder 
and the cuisine which put three pounds on 
my weight while I was there. 

Van Linschoten the Dutchman, towards 
the end of the sixteenth century, wrote of 
the "great abundance of fish, a wonder 
wrought by God, for with crooked nails 
they may take as much fish as they will, 
and is of as good taste and savour as any 
fish that I ever ate, and this every man that 
hath been there affirmeth to be true." 

Long ago some of the St. Helena 
fishermen lived with their wives and 
children like wild creatures in remote 
caves in the cliffs. Nowadays the 
professionals are all off-shore fishermen, 
using double-ended whale boats of the old 
Nantucket pattern or squaresterned gigs. 
Visiting experts have declared that St. 
Helena is an angler's paradise; for the 
great yellow-fin tunny run in these waters 
and a boat may bring in dozens in a day. 
Three crack South African anglers led by 

General Charles Brink landed nearly eight 
tons of game fish with rod and line during 
twenty days fishing. You have to go three 
or four miles off-shore to the west of the 
island for tunny. The island fishermen 
catch them on twenty -one strand hemp 
lines; and these lines are coiled skilfully. 
No man moves when a tunny line is 
whipping out of the boat, for a foul line 
with a hooked tunny is capable of taking 
off a man's hand or foot. The record St. 
Helena tunny weighed four hundred 
pounds and was eight feet long. 

I doubt whether Sir Hudson Lowe would 
have allowed Napoleon out in the boats, 
but many a grand fish must have been sent 
up to Longwood for the French chefs to 
prepare. Some say that the deep-water 
bull's-eye with its huge eyes like targets 
and crimson skin is the most delicate of 
the everyday island fish. I had it boiled, 
with egg sauce, and I shall never forget it. 
But there is a rare fish known as the coal 
fish, with dark skin and flesh. This is 

brought in only once or twice a year, and 
usually goes to Government House. Years 
ago a solitary fisherman named George 
Harry used to boast that he could bring in 
a coal fish any time anyone would pay the 
price. Unfortunately he died without 
revealing his marks, so that now there are 
few on the island who have tasted the 
rich, steamed flesh of the coal fish 
accompanied by Tartare sauce. 

Tunny is common enough to become 
monotonous, but the islanders never tire 
of it. They call it albacore, and make a 
soup of it with onion, potato, parsley, 
thyme and chilli. ("Never leave the chilli 
out of a St. Helena dish," the island cooks 
tell you.) The most familiar method is a 
pot-roast, when great cuts of tunny are 
stuffed with parsley, breadcrumbs and 
egg. Served with a brown, tomato or 
onion gravy, the tunny cooked in this way 
tastes more like meat and is indeed called 
"St. Helena beef. Tunny liver fried in 

Tunny is common enough to become monotonous, but the islanders never tire of it. 

deep fat has nothing fishy about it and 
strongly resembles calves' liver. 

"Albacore now - I calls that a good 
straight-eating fish," an islander said to 
me. He meant it was easy to avoid the 
bones. Island cooks also make "albacore 
balls" (tunny rissoles) by mincing the raw 
fish, adding herbs and bacon and mashed 
potatoes, and frying until golden. These 
rissoles are packed carefully in tins and 
sent to homesick St. Helenans in many 
parts of the world. Tunny are also 
preserved by dry-salting and smoking 
with the aid of oak leaves or fine sawdust. 
According to island superstition, however, 
your face will turn red and swell if you eat 
dried albacore which has been hung in the 
rays of the moon. 

Wahoo, which appear to be exactly like 
the Florida wahoo, is another sporting fish 
caught in St. Helena waters. These slate 
blue fish, running up to one hundred and 
forty pounds, often leap clear of the water 
when hooked, rush away at speed and put 

up a tremendous fight. On the island the 
wahoo is always known as barracuda, a 
pardonable error as there is a strong 
superficial resemblance. Wahoo are 
cooked like tunny, but they are more 
expensive and are called "white man's 
fish" by the islanders. 

Another good fish which the poor 
islanders seldom taste is the cavally, 
nicknamed "St. Helena salmon". Mrs. F. 
Oswell Jones, custodian of the Jamestown 
library and a noted cook, told me that 
cavally should be partly fried, then placed 
in a pot with onion, parsley, a sprig of 
thyme and chilli, almost covered with 
water and steamed. Butter is added before 

The common fish of St. Helena are 
mackerel and bonito. Mackerel are 
soused, and the cask helps many a 
poverty-stricken family through lean 
times. Bonito are so voracious that a 
fisherman can haul in a hundred in an 
hour at the Jamestown anchorage. They 

are fried, or eaten as rissoles. Sun-dried 
bonito are useful in hard times. 

Flying fish are often chased ashore by 
porpoises, but you will never see them on 
sale in the Jamestown market. It is a 
favourite island delicacy. Here is a recipe 
Mrs. Jones gave me. Fry herbs and 
potatoes and add a dessert spoon of curry 
powder. Cut the flying fish in thin strips, 
place it on the curry mixture in a sauce- 
pan, cover and steam. Add salt. Keep 
turning it over and chopping it with a 
spoon. This dish is known on the island as 
"flying fish chutney". Incidentally, the 
deep-seated love of curries, chillies, and 
all hot and highly-spiced foods reveals the 
eastern element in the St. Helena people. 

By the way, those fires I noticed coming 
up to the island at night were lit not only 
to lure the fish inshore but also to enable 
the hungry fishermen to cook their meals. 
On flat rocks below the frightening 
precipices they make their driftwood fires 
and put their "plow pots" in the flames. 

"Plow" appears to be an island corruption 
of pilau, the oriental dish of rice with 
meat and spices. The pot is a twenty-eight 
pound margarine tin in which the fisher- 
man cooks rice, potatoes, a little bacon or 
salt pork, curry powder and onions. 
Freshly-caught fish are cleaned and put on 
top to steam. "Fish plow" is the week-end 
fare of scores of St. Helenans. 

One dish which I thoroughly enjoyed was 
curried octopus, always known on the 
island as "catfish". Then there was 
porpoise, harpooned by hand and carried 
up to the market by the rejoicing crew. 
The meat tasted very much like pork, 
while the liver, served with an onion 
gravy and bacon, made a choice meal 

Every evening a few boats pull out of 
Jamestown anchorage and along the coast 
beyond Rupert's Bay in search of "stump" 
and "long legs", the two island species of 
crawfish. The bamboo traps, like lobster 
pots, are weighted with iron and baited 

with tunny heads. Down they go in fifteen 
fathoms, with bamboo spars as markers. I 
cannot say that the "stump" is equal to a 
Maine lobster, but it seemed to me to be 
more tender than the Cape rock lobster. 
St. Helena cooks serve their "stumps" 
boiled, curried and creamed. Mrs. Moyce 
of the Consulate gave me a "stump" 
which had been minced, returned to its 
shell with a little butter and some 
flavourings, sprinkled with grated cheese 
and baked until brown. This, in my view, 
is the most satisfactory way of dealing 
with all members of the crawfish family. 

Limpets are the only shellfish which are 
really plentiful at St. Helena. They are 
boiled, cut out of their shells, and fried 
with herbs or curried. Wideawakes' eggs 
are hard to come by nowadays, for 
although they are found on the bird rocks 
along the St. Helena coast, the 
government has stopped the collection of 
eggs. Consignments still reach St. Helena 
from the sister island of Ascension, where 

the wideawake (sterna fuscata) is more 
plentiful. I acquired the taste for seabirds' 
eggs long ago, when penguin eggs were 
cheap and plentiful in South Africa. 
Devotees of these delicacies never forget 
the subtle flavour. The prized wide- 
awake's eggs are best eaten boiled; ten 
minutes is just right. They often appeared 
in the cable company's mess at Ascension 
as savouries, with the red yolk mixed with 
cheese or anchovy. 

One week-end while I was in St. Helena a 
fisherman caught an eighty-pound turtle 
with rod and line. He then scaled a 
precipice with the turtle on his back; and 
thus I was able to taste steaks of turtle, 
fried with onion and served with a rich 
sherry gravy. It was a little too rich for 
me. But the green turtle soup which 
simmered for two days in the huge tureen 
at the Consulate was the most delicious I 
had ever experienced. The island folk still 
talk about an eight hundred pound turtle 
landed there last century. Two British 

regiments had turtle soup for three days, 
and the shell was used as a roof by a 
soldier who was building a small cottage 
for himself and his wife. 

St. Helena has always been a vegetable 
garden and an orchard. Fernando Lopez, 
the mutilated Portuguese who was the 
island's first settler, planted basil, parsley, 
mint, spinach, fennel, anise and mustard- 
seed for the good of his scurvy stricken 
countrymen. Chinese pheasants, with 
white-ringed necks, were put down by the 
Portuguese, and are still providing good 
sport after four and a half centuries. Red- 
legged partridges were sent from the 
Persian Gulf and guinea-fowl from West 
Africa. Though the early settlers led 
Robinson Crusoe lives, they never went 
hungry. Fig, lemon, orange and 
pomegranate trees and date palms 

Yams, imported from Madagascar, fed the 
slaves and pigs of the island for hundreds 
of years. St. Helena islanders call them- 

selves "Yamstocks", after the vegetable 
which was once their staple diet. I had 
some difficulty in persuading the 
Consulate people to put yams on the 
menu; apparently it was like asking for 
winkles in the West End of London. 
Every small holder still grows yams for 
his own use, though the happy days when 
the American whalers called for yams are 
over. Yams are cooked on the farms 
before they are sent down to the 
Jamestown market on pack-donkeys and 
sold at a penny or two pence apiece. 
According to island custom, banana skins 
are pressed on the yams while they are 
boiling in the pot. The ultimate flavour is 
a blend of potato and artichoke. Islanders 
fry their boiled yams in oil or lard, and 
these thrifty people eat yam and egg far 
more often than bacon and eggs. 

Among the many English contributions to 
St. Helena were wild deer, now extinct, 
and blackberries, which I had for 
breakfast often at the hotel. Blackberry 

duff is a true island dish; the little 
dumplings are dropped into the boiling 
juice as the blackberries are being cooked. 
Bligh of the Bounty landed breadfruit and 
other plants from the Pacific islands at St. 
Helena. Early last century a visitor wrote: 
"On every farm there were grown 
oranges, limes, lemons, figs, grapes, 
guavas, bananas, peaches, pomegranates, 
melons, watermelons, pumpkins. There 
was one apple orchard yielding the owner 
£500 a year." 

Few islanders can afford meat except on 
Sundays, and then it may be a roast leg of 
goat. With luck, there may be some left 
over for a stew on Monday. Curry, as I 
have said, is the great island dish and for 
this the cheaper cuts of meat can be 
bought. Island cooks serving white 
households make an excellent devilled 
chicken, using curry powder, cayenne, 
many onions, wine and Worcester sauce. 
Rabbit is treated in the same way. You 
can shoot wild rabbits in many parts of the 

island, and some people breed rabbits for 
the table. 

They have a way with Irish stew which 
may be peculiar to the island. Mrs. Moyce 
told me that she first boiled all the 
vegetables - whole onions, carrots and a 
little turnip. Mutton chops or cuts of beef 
are done separately in another pot. When 
the stew is served, the meat is placed in 
the centre with the vegetables round it. 

Pigeons are eaten on St. Helena, but the 
wild doves, which are common, are left 
strictly alone. I was told that doves are 
supposed by the islanders to have some 
religious significance. 

Many exhibits at the agricultural show I 
visited bore the Longwood label, for the 
land round Napoleon's old domain is still 
a flourishing farm. I saw, too, some of the 
lesser-known island foods; the watercress 
that grows wild along the mountain 
streams, once famous among scurvy 
stricken sailor men. There was a purslane, 

indigenous I believe, which is used as 
spinach; the wild raspberry, sold in the 
market for making jam and jellies; the 
angelica which grows high among the 
ferns on Diana's Peak, with an aromatic 
stem which tastes like fennel. I bought a 
jar of light yellow St. Helena honey at the 
show. Bees feed on the wild kaffir-thorn 
tree; others prefer aloes and cactus, and 
give a darker and thicker honey. 

Deadwood Plain, beyond Longwood, 
produces some huge mushrooms in 
November, but the finest field mushrooms 
are picked round the former tomb of 
Napoleon in Sane Valley. Artichokes, 
guavas, Cape gooseberries, granadillas 
and several other vegetables and fruits 
grow wild on the island. Wild potatoes are 
rare; wild tomatoes and sweet chillies not 
so rare. There is a wild mint which is 
dried and used as a substitute for tea, or 
scattered in the cottages to destroy fleas. 

St. Helena tea (Beatsonia poytulacifolia) 
is another wild growth found on the rocky 

cliffs and bearing a little white blossom. 
This is brewed green, or dried by the poor 
and mixed with imported tea. It has a 
reputation for restoring lost appetites. 
Islanders also collect a growth known as 
lemon grass and mix it with tea to impart 
a lemon flavour. Balm of Gilead is an 
island plant which is infused with boiling 
water and used to treat fevers. 

Five banana varieties flourish in St. 
Helena, some growing wild in ravines. 
Naturally, this free food is not neglected 
by the island cooks. Bananas appear in 
milk puddings, and there is a dish for 
special occasions, known as "banana 
pride", in which the bananas are fried, 
sprinkled with sugar and finally soused 
with rum or brandy. 

Pumpkin appears in many forms, and a 
familiar island dish is pumpkin pudding. 
Boil or steam a yellow pumpkin, add 
sugar while hot, then margarine, spice, 
squeeze of lemon, flour and eggs. Place 
this in a greased pan and bake for two or 

three hours. Pumpkin fritters are also 
baked in large slabs. 

Cabbage is a popular vegetable in St. 
Helena, probably because the cooks 
understand the art of cooking it. When 
fish is scarce, the housewife buys a little 
salt pork and steams it with cabbage, 
potatoes and margarine. 

Let us return to the coffee to end this St. 
Helena banquet. Coffee was first planted 
by Governor Pyke more than two 
centuries ago; and the island coffee won a 
first prize at the London Exhibition in the 
middle of last century. At that period, St. 
Helena coffee fetched a penny a pound 
more than any other coffee in the world 
on the London market. 

Foolishly the islanders tore the coffee 
bushes out of their fields to make way for 
flax, the lazy man's crop. They lived to 
rue the day, and now a great deal of re- 
planting is in progress. You find the old 
coffee growing in hedges; the last of that 

pure Mocha coffee which has never 
known a pest. Kenya coffee is also being 
cultivated on government ground and 
elsewhere. Dry seasons appear to favour 
the coffee, for then crops are heavy. 
Down in the Sandy Bay area, in sheltered 
ravines, coffee grows wild, bushes with 
pure white blossoms and red berries 
reaching a height of fifteen feet. 

One of these days you will hear more of 
St. Helena coffee. It is mild when taken 
alone, but lends itself naturally to a blend. 
Coffee may restore something of St. 
Helena's lost prosperity, and I hope that 
the smallholder, the hard-pressed 
countryman with his tiny cottage and 
yams and pack-donkeys, will share in that 

Chapter 21 
In A Tiny City 

St. HELENA HAS only one entrance and no 
exit," say the people who love the island 
and never wish to leave. Jamestown is the 
entrance, and it has been called a tiny, 
unique city' because it is at once the 
capital and only town of St. Helena." 
Jamestown is indeed unique. By sheer 
chance rather than a love of beauty it has 
preserved its past almost complete, so that 
you step into a Main Street which is a 
handsome relic of the eighteenth century. 
Two rows of dignified Georgian houses 
look into each other's sashed windows. 
On the small, square panes you can still 
read the names, scratched with diamonds, 
of residents who lived there long ago. 

Earlier this century you would have seen 
island children wearing three-cornered 
beaver hats and frilled linen collars. In 
some ways Jamestown is still early 
Victorian, and keen observers say that 
Main Street seems to have been lifted 
bodily from Tunbridge Wells. 

I made my own map of Jamestown, all the 
way from the Castle portcullis to the end 
of the valley. They play tennis in the 
Castle moat nowadays, and not many 
people notice the seven "post office 
stones" built into the wall. At the Castle 
entrance (a cameo for an artist with a 
glimpse of steps and trees and cobbled 
courtyard) you find the coat-of-arms of 
the English East India Company. Here, 
too, is the oldest English inscription on 
the island, the stone left by Will Fremlen, 
master of the ship Dolphin, who called in 
1645 when the island was deserted. Go 
out on the Castle terrace and you can 
imagine a ghostly orchestra playing in the 
ballroom; the people of the island gazing 

in wonder upon Madame Bertrand and the 
chic women of Napoleon's entourage. 

Next to the Castle are the law courts and 
the library, while on the far side of the 
parade is the almost-empty gaol. But the 
sight that holds the gaze of every visitor is 
Jacob's Ladder, certainly one of the seven 
wonders of the island. Ladder Hill gained 
its name before the end of the seventeenth 
century, for there was a rope ladder at the 
steepest part, long before any road was 
made. The modern Jacob's ladder, with a 
so-called "tramway" on each side of the 
steps, was built by army engineers in 1830 
to enable ammunition and stores to be 
raised from Jamestown to the fort above. 
Country produce went down the inclined 
plane in safety trucks which could not run 
away if the rope broke; an invention of the 
Jamestown organist. You can still see the 
concrete base where mules worked the 
capstan bars which set the whole 
contraption going. 

Climb the steps by all means if your legs 
are in good condition, but remember that 
many who set out do not reach the top. 
There are seven hundred steps; each step 
is eleven inches high, a most tiring choice. 
(One step is buried at the foot, so the 
guide books tell you there are six hundred 
and ninety-nine steps.) The total length of 
the ladder is nine hundred and thirty-three 
feet, and the vertical height six hundred 
feet. That gives an average slope of thirty- 
nine degrees, steep enough to make some 
people dizzy. Islanders go up the ladder 
with a peculiar backward swing of the leg 
which helps them on the high steps and 
prevents aching muscles. School-children 
attending the secondary school on top 
think nothing of a climb which is an 
impossible ordeal for many people. 

Rails on each side of Jacob's Ladder are 
of such width that the island boys are able 
to lie with their necks on one rail and feet 
on the other and slide down at a speed 
which horrifies the newcomer. This feat 

Islanders go up the ladder with a peculiar backward swing of the leg which helps them on the high 

steps and prevents aching muscles. 

was first performed when soldiers from 
the Ladder Hill barracks were on duty in 
Jamestown at lunch-time. Boys were sent 
down with rations, and they had to deliver 
the soup before it cooled off. They soon 
devised the method of sliding down the 
banisters with the canteens balanced on 
their stomachs. Hundreds of island boys 
can race up the steps and slide down 
within eight minutes. It takes nerve and 
skill, and it reminded me of the guides 
running up and down the Pyramids. I 
believe there has been only one death on 
Jacob's Ladder, and the ladder cannot be 
blamed for that. The victim was a naval 
seaman who unwisely attempted the 
descent after a visit to an inn. 

The old signal station at the top of Jacob's 
Ladder is the home nowadays of a 
hospitable retired colonel. It has been 
transformed into a comfortable residence 
with one of the most remarkable views in 
the world; and very glad I was to stand 
there with a glass of pink gin in my hand 

and the cliffs of St. Helena framed in the 
long window. One night, I remember, a 
fleet of whalers bound for the Antarctic 
anchored off the island. They held no 
communication with the shore, but it was 
as though the world had come up over the 
horizon. The colonel's guests stared hard 
at those whalers; and the sun went down; 
and there was the "green flash", a rare and 
brilliant spectacle, shooting upwards from 
the setting sun. I remember, too, the 
position the colonel had chosen for his 
bed. It was level with the railing at the 
edge of the precipice on the seaward side. 
An uneasy sleeper would have rolled 
over, and then gone straight down to West 
Rocks. But the colonel is not disturbed by 
heights. He admits that sometimes he 
loses his morning tea-cup, but he declares 
that he will not lose his life. 

Ladder Hill has other landmarks. Scars of 
the disused road to the summit cut by 
Governor Pyke in 1717 are still visible. 
The present road has a very necessary 

stone wall. Emery's jump is the spot 
where Sergeant John Emery was thrown 
over the cliff when his horse took fright. 
Frenchman's Leap recalls a recent 
accident when the French Vice-Consul 
lost control of his car, drove through the 
wall and landed in the valley two hundred 
feet below - almost unhurt. A steel- 
topped motor-car is a wonderful thing. 

Come back to Jamestown, slowly and 
carefully by the motor road. At the foot of 
Main Street are the public gardens, once a 
campground for Boer prisoners. The huge 
trees that loom over the parade from the 
gardens are peepul or banyan trees from 
India, planted all the way up the valley by 
Governor Dunbar more than two centuries 
ago. Above the gardens you may follow 
the steep, zig-zag hillside path called 
Sisters' Walk, laid out by Governor Patten 
for his two daughters early last century. 
This scene formed Napoleon's first 
glimpse of the St. Helena interior in 
daylight. He landed in the dark and lodged 

that first night in the boarding-house kept 
by the government botanist, Mr. Porteous. 
Sad to relate, this fine old house was sold 
in 1937 for two hundred pounds and 
pulled down to make way for a motor 
garage. By an almost incredible 
coincidence, the room selected for 
Napoleon, overlooking the gardens, was 
the very room which had been occupied 
ten years before by Sir Arthur Wellesley, 
later Duke of Wellington. 

Not all monuments are to be admired, but 
there are a few in this part of Jamestown 
worthy of your full attention. One stands 
in the public gardens, built with the hard- 
earned pennies of the men of H.M.S. 
Waterwitch in memory of their shipmates 
who died while rounding up the slavers. 
Her captain was Sturdee, father of the 
admiral who gained a wider fame at the 
Falklands battle. 

Sometimes a doctor becomes a legend, 
not only because of his medical skill but 
as a man. And such a man was Dr. W. J. J. 

Arnold of St. Helena, whose monument 
stands in the middle of the parade ground. 
"The best friend St. Helena ever had," 
reads the inscription. Arnold was an 
Irishman and a bachelor. He arrived in St. 
Helena as an army surgeon in 1901, and 
became a general practitioner when he left 
the service. Later he was appointed 
Colonial Surgeon, and he acted as 
Governor in 1925, shortly before his 
death. Dr. Arnold not only gave his skill 
to the island, but also every penny he 
could spare. The poor worshipped him. 
He rode about on horseback attending the 
very poor without ever charging a fee, and 
when a patient could not pay for 
medicines he provided the money out of 
his own pocket. "He knew the heart of 
every poor person on St. Helena," an old 
boatman told me. I mentioned the name of 
Dr. Arnold to an island woman and tears 
came into her eyes as she said: "I tell you, 
a shiver went through this place the day 
the doctor died." 

St. Helena's most famous dynasty is the 
Solomon family, and I found a memorial 
tablet to Saul Solomon (1817 1892) in St. 
James's Church at the foot of Main Street 
in Jamestown. The first of the line to 
settle on the island, also Saul, was put on 
shore gravely ill from a ship bound for 
India ten years before the end of the 
eighteenth century. He recovered and 
became known in time as the "Merchant 
King of St. Helena". The first Saul 
Solomon persuaded his brothers Benjamin 
and Joseph to leave London and join him 
in business on the island. There was also a 
Charles Solomon in those days, probably 
another brother. Originally the family was 
Jewish. Church registers as far back as 
1798 record marriages and baptisms of 
members of the family. The Saul Solomon 
who came to South Africa, founded the 
"Cape Argus", and made such a great 
name for himself in Cape politics, was 
Joseph's son, born on the island. It is 
interesting to note that the Solomons had 

a printing press on the island early last 

Saul Solomon the first was an admirer of 
Napoleon. According to island legend, 
Saul sent a silken ladder, hidden in a 
teapot, to Longwood, the idea being that 
Napoleon would descend a cliff at night 
and escape by boat; however, the plot was 
discovered and the ladder seized. 
Historians have been unable to confirm 
the story. The Solomons supplied 
Longwood with provisions, of course, and 
some of the local halfpenny coins bearing 
the names of Solomon and his partners 
Dickson and Taylor were dug up at 
Longwood during my visit. Saul Solomon 
was Consul for France at the time of the 
removal of Napoleon's body. He made the 
arrangements for the exhumation and 
received a medal. Miss Gideon, a relative, 
made the French flags used on this 
occasion and the Prince de Joinville 
presented her with a gold armlet set with 
rubies, pearls and an emerald. The last of 

the line is the Hon. H. W. Solomon, 
O.B.E. He has no children, and he has 
sold most of his St. Helena interests to a 
London firm. Thus the Solomon dynasty 
is coming to an end after more than a 
century and a half. 

Though several Jewish names remain on 
the island, the little Jewish colony which 
formed round the first Saul Solomon has 
died out. A name which seems to have 
vanished is Gideon. The first Gideon 
appears to have been Lewis Gideon 
Solomon, a brother of the first Saul 
Solomon, who dropped the Solomon by 
deed poll to avoid confusion with the 
other Solomons. Lewis Gideon was a 
partner in the firm of Solomon, Gideon 
and Moss; he was also a jeweller and 
watchmaker, and Napoleon entrusted him 
with the repair of the Lengwood 
timepieces. Gideon was very friendly with 
Napoleon's physician O'Meara and 
supplied him with newspapers. All these 
Jews of St. Helena have gone, both in the 

religious and the racial sense, as a result 
of conversion and intermarriage with 
Gentiles. Islands are always worth 
studying. It seems that a small human 
minority on a remote island is bound to be 
swallowed up. 

Main Street is full of memories of 
personalities. Next to the Porteous house 
stood the queer old American Consulate, 
one room upstairs, one room downstairs. 
It has gone, but the last consul, Captain 
Coffin, has not been forgotten. Apart from 
these two demolitions, I think Main Street 
is intact. Almost every stately house is a 
home, with a barred cellar below where 
the slaves once lived. Several houses have 
steps and high stoeps reminiscent of the 
Old Cape Town architecture. The cobbled 
pavements and gutters must be very old. 
Some of the buildings have iron frames 
for oil lamps. Street lighting came 
towards the end of Queen Victoria's time; 
before that you could put your own lamp 
in a frame and light up. It is one of the 

quietest streets I have ever known, and 
often the only sound is the trade wind 
rustling the dry banana leaves. 
Woolsmoke and the gratifying odour of 
fresh bread from the Benjamins' bakery 
are the aromas. And the sight which a 
purely St. Helenan is a cavalcade of 
donkeys coming in from the country 
loaded with firewood and vegetables, 
poultry and fruit. 

The most unusual sight in Main Street, of 
course, is a stranger. I walked down to the 
wharf before breakfast on my first 
morning in Jamestown; passing the 
gardens I became aware of a man who had 
been sweeping the street. When he saw 
me he stood rigid, gaping and gripping his 
broom; and he stared after me, thunder- 
struck, until I had disappeared through the 
portcullis. As I have said, someone called 
Jamestown a "tiny city". It is really just 
one of the world's many small towns, but 
an isolated small town, a small town at the 
end of the world. If you decide to lead any 

sort of double life, do not settle in James- 

I am still lingering in Main Street. There 
are a couple of cafes where the white 
exiles take their morning coffee and egg 
sandwiches when they come into 
Jamestown for their Saturday shopping. 
Here, too, is the town house which the last 
of the Solomons sold not long ago; a 
grand old mansion where Madame Patti 
once gave a concert. I have already 
spoken of my hotel, the Consulate, but 
there are many stories, and much history, 
enshrined in those bricks. In the whaling 
days, and I am talking now of the 
American sailing whalers, some of the 
skippers' wives put up at the Consulate 
and waited for their husbands to return 
from the Southern Ocean. Late one night a 
captain's wife awoke with a thirst, 
complained of illness and loudly 
demanded a drink. Mrs. Knipe, the 
proprietor's wife, brought her a brandy 
and water. It was too weak for the 

American palate. Everyone in the hotel 
heard the captain's wife shouting: "This is 
what I call water bewitched and brandy 

Next door to the Consulate is the 
picturesque old Malabar store. Malabar 
was a ship. She was condemned and 
broken up, but her cargo was salved and 
placed in this store. (Another store on the 
parade ground is called the Rickmers for 
the same reason; the ship was the Willi 
Rickmers.) Solomon owned the Malabar, 
and his old office, which has handled 
practically all the wealth of this little 
island for so many years, is a little way 
down the street. St. Helena has no bank, 
but I cashed my traveller's cheques at 
Solomon's office. It is hard to imagine St. 
Helena without a Solomon. 

Main Street forks out just beyond the 
Malabar store. At the top, facing the sea, 
is an old house nicknamed "The Canister" 
because it is shaped like an old-fashioned 
canister of tea. Slaves were sold by 

auction under the trees outside "The 
Canister" early last century. They lit an 
inch of candle, and the bid made as the 
candle snuffed out was accepted. 

Walk down Main Street on the left (facing 
the sea) and you come to the shops; the 
fragrant bakery, a grocer, and "The Star" 
general store owned by the Solomon firm. 
They put up their Christmas decorations 
while I was there and filled the windows 
with toys. No toy cost more than a few 
shillings; it was a pathetic illustration of 
the island's distress. 

Now you are facing the post-office, a 
feverish place when a passenger ship 
comes in, for St. Helena stamps are in 
great demand. Over the post office during 
my visit lived a brave old artist, Mr. F. 
Oswell- Jones, a man with a beret, a white 
beard and the ribbons of three wars. He 
told me that he had started as a chorister 
and sung in the Westminster Abbey choir; 
he had been a theatrical painter, art 
director in the early days of British films, 

and a church decorator. "I've never had a 
regular steady job all my life," remarked 
Oswell- Jones uncomplainingly. 

One day Oswell-Jones was orderly officer 
at Kasr-el-Nil barracks in Cairo. An 
officer, hatless, wearing carpet slippers, 
and without a belt, was brought in by the 
military police. They thought he was an 
impostor. He was Lawrence of Arabia. 
Not long afterwards Oswell-Jones was 
sent to Jeddah with a quarter of a million 
golden sovereigns, and he met Lawrence 
again. The money was used to finance the 
Arab revolt. 

If I have wandered away from Main 
Street, I have shown you that all sorts of 
characters settle in St. Helena. Oswell- 
Jones married an educated St. Helena 
woman, the librarian who helped me to 
appreciate the island cuisine. "I shall 
never go back," said Oswell-Jones. 

St. Helena's senior settler from England at 
the time of my visit was Mr. E. J. ("Pop") 

Warren, for many years the island's 
chemist. He still looks into his shop 
occasionally, next door but one to the post 
office. "Pop" Warren and his wife enter- 
tained me again and again in their home 
on the Half Tree Hollow road, over- 
looking a great expanse of ocean. I shall 
remember "Pop" Warren (eighty-one 
when I met him) as a man who had spent 
his life in a small community on a lonely 
island without acquiring a narrow outlook. 
He could have held his own, with his 
sense of humour and technical skill, in 
London or New York. 

Warren's sister had married a dentist and 
chemist who had established himself on 
St. Helena. Warren joined his brother-in- 
law on the island in 1889 as an apprentice. 
He has a fine collection of photographs 
covering the island's story since then, 
with a few historic pictures taken before 
his arrival. Some of "Pop" Warren's 
furniture is historic, too, and he believes 
that he has the posters from Napoleon's 

bed. Long ago he paid five shillings for a 
mahogany desk, made by a fine 
craftsman. At the back of a drawer he 
discovered a letter written by a 
seventeenth-century governor, Anthony 
Beale, warning his son against wine and 

"Pop" Warren told me that he had never 
made more than five hundred pounds a 
year during his long period as a chemist. 
Yet he had brought up a son (farming in 
Devon) and two daughters (married to 
cable men) and had lived well all the time. 
A newcomer to St. Helena once asked 
Warren: "How much would I need to live 
on here? " 

"I don't know," replied Warren. "I'd have 
to watch your habits closely for six 
months before I could answer a question 
like that." 

St. Helena has a high illegitimacy rate 
owing to poverty. A bygone bishop told 
Warren that the island was the most 

immoral place in the world. "I disagree 
entirely," Warren retorted. "You ought to 
have a look at Marseilles and Buenos 
Aires before you talk like that. Thanks to 
the army, the navy and the merchant 
service there are a great many fatherless 
children on the island - but look how 
healthy they are! Without that new blood, 
they would all be lunatics through 
inbreeding by now." 

Pass on from "Pop" Warren's shop to 
Wellington House with the high steps, the 
grey home of St. Helena handicrafts 
where ships' passengers (the few that call 
nowadays) buy lace and beads and 
polished wooden trays with the St. Helena 
crest inlaid. Wellington, as Sir Arthur 
Wellesley, moved across the road to this 
house in 1805 after spending the night I 
have mentioned in the Porteous boarding- 

Long before there was a Main Street, a 
century and a half before Van Riebeeck 
built the Cape settlement, Portuguese 

mariners lived in this island valley. The 
last houses in Main Street are owned by 
the government and occupied by Mr. Le 
Breton, a headmaster, Mr. Bizarre, the 
harbourmaster, and certain government 
offices. On the site of those houses the 
Portuguese assembled the timber of a 
wrecked carrack in the shape of a chapel. 
They called their settlement Chapel 
Valley, the name it bears to this day. 

When Napoleon rode up Main Street on 
the first day of his island exile, he turned 
to the left at "The Canister" and passed 
through a street known ever since that day 
as Napoleon Street. Some of the double- 
storied houses and little cottages in 
Napoleon Street are very old, with ships' 
timbers in their ceilings and stairways. In 
the shipping days, the great days of sail 
when a thousand, fourteen hundred ships 
anchored off Jamestown every year, there 
were sailors' boarding-houses in 
Napoleon Street. The girls persuaded the 
men to desert, and they went to live 

riotously at Bobbins' and other such 
establishments until their money was 
spent and the keeper cashed their advance 
notes and shipped them away. 

Turn right at "The Canister" and you 
come to a policeman on traffic duty (the 
lightest of tasks), the general market and 
fish market, and the winding, uphill 
Market Street. St. Helena has no postal 
service within the island, but it has a free 
and pleasant alternative. Hand your letters 
to the policeman outside the market, and 
he will pass it on to the first driver going 
in the required direction. 

It was in Market Street that I was shown a 
little English motorcar bearing the number 
"I" and a sale card marked £70. This was 
an historic car, the first that ever ran on 
the island (in 1929) and still in running 
order. I do feel that this island away from 
our mad world might have been left as the 
last home of the horse and the carriage. 
Motor-cars had been prohibited in 1919, 
and when the matter came up for 

discussion again nine years later, there 
were many who supported the ban. "Time 
is rarely the essence of any undertaking in 
St. Helena," wrote the Governor in his 
report on the subject. One escapist, who 
had settled on the island to avoid progress, 
declared that he would leave when the 
first car arrived. Nevertheless, the old 
ordinance was repealed, Mr. H. W. 
Solomon imported the car which I saw, 
and the escapist also soon became a car- 
owner. I have a St. Helena driving licence 
myself; but I still wish that I had known 
this island in the even more leisurely days 
of the horse. 

Market Street has a friendly little tavern 
called the "White Horse", and not far 
away is the "Black Horse" building where 
slaves were sold. Mr. Edward 
Constantine, schoolmaster and authority 
on island history, took me to an old 
Market Street building occupied by the 
Mechanics and Friendly Benefit Society. 
(These old-established societies play a 

large part in St. Helena life, for the poor 
islanders have learnt to help themselves 
and save for their hour of need.) Mr. 
Constantine was president of this society. 
He opened a black treasure chest - 
identified by British Museum authorities 
as sixteenth century workmanship - and 
showed me the false keyhole in front and 
the hidden keyhole on top. No doubt the 
chest had come from a ship. At one time 
the society's money was kept in the chest, 
and even now a member who receives aid 
is said to have "gone on the box". The 
society also possesses rosewood chairs of 
the Queen Anne period and round horn 
candle lanterns which came from sailing 
ships long ago. "This is a wonderful place 
for discovering antique furniture," pointed 
out Mr. Constantine. "Many a fish is cut 
up on a genuine Chippendale table. " 

In a Market Street shop the owner showed 
me a box of coins and made me wonder 
whether there might not be prizes for the 
coin collector on the island. St. Helena 

uses British and South African currency at 
the present time; but in the past the money 
that circulated there was bewildering. 
Spanish dollars, also known as pieces of 
eight, were in general use in the 
seventeenth century. Later on, with ships 
of many European nations trading with 
the East and calling at the island, a great 
variety of coins were introduced. It was 
the place where passengers got rid of odd 
money, and eagerly the Jamestown shop- 
keepers accepted it. Thus in the eighteenth 
century the islanders found themselves 
juggling with seventeen different 
currencies at once. Gold doubloons were 
handled, and Bengal mohurs, moidores, 
star pagodas, gold gubbers and Venetian 
sequins. Madras rupees clinked into the 
tills with duca'oons, German crowns, 
Maria Therese dollars, Portuguese joes, 
Dutch guilders, rixdollars, francs and 
English shillings. Early last century, in 
spite of this dazzling and jingling array, 
there was a shortage of small change. Saul 

Solomon stepped into the breach by 
having his own firm's halfpennies minted 
in London and sent to the island. More 
than seventy thousand were issued, but 
they are now rare. 

If you follow Market Street up the valley 
you come to China Lane, where many of 
the Chinese labourers once lived. They 
arrived in Governor Beaton's time, early 
last century, not as slaves but as 
indentured farm labourers at a shilling a 
day and rations. Sometimes the Macao 
men fought the Cantonese; but they all 
worked well, and at one time there were 
more than six hundred of them on the 
island. They had their own joss-house in 
the Plantation grounds. Not one pure 
Chinese is to be found in St. Helena 
today, but the Chinese eyes and high 
cheek bones may be seen distinctly in 
some island families. 

There are several romantic old residences 
with gardens at the upper end of the 
Jamestown valley. One of them is 

Cambrian House, where I was entertained 
by Miss Pritchard, descendant of an old 
family which became famous both on St. 
Helena and South Africa. (Colonel H. H. 
Pritchard helped to guard Napoleon. One 
of his grandsons was the Johannesburg 
surveyor after whom Pritchard Street was 
named.) Cambrian House has a garden, 
one acre in area, which is a fragment of 
the celebrated garden which once supplied 
the English East India Company's ships. 
Miss Pritchard still has her own mangoes 
and paw-paws, bananas, figs, lequats, 
guavas, avocado pears and rose apples. 
All the tropical fruits in St. Helena are 
grown near sea level. I saw bread fruit and 
Brazilian cherries in Miss Pritchard 's 
garden, date and coconut palms, pink and 
white oleanders, jacaranda in flower, 
bougainvillea of two varieties. 

Last house in the valley, above Miss 
Pritchard' s, is Maldivia House. This was 
the site of the island hospital two 
centuries ago, and it is now the official 

residence of the assistant medical officer. 
Maldivia recalls the voyage of the ship 
Drake in 1734, when she was homeward 
bound across the Indian Ocean. Far from 
land she picked up a canoe with ten 
natives of the Maldive Islands, almost 
dead from thirst. Three died after the 
rescue. Five men, one woman and a boy 
were landed at St. Helena and put to work 
as slaves in the garden which is named 
after their home. 

Dinizulu, chief of the Zulus, spent part of 
his St. Helena exile at Maldivia. He felt 
the cold in the country severely, but the 
valley suited him and the other Zulus with 
him. I liked Maldivia House, with its 
small windows of hand-blown glass. But 
with the white ant in the woodwork, I give 
it another decade and then the historic 
mansion will fall to pieces as so many 
island homes have done. The largest 
mango tree in St. Helena grows in the 

All the gardens of this valley are watered 
by the stream known as "The Run", which 
is the water from the Heart-shaped 
Waterfall above Maldivia. Floods were a 
menace, even in fairly recent years. No 
escape was possible in the old days when 
a wall of water rushed down a narrow 
valley, such as the Jamestown valley, after 
a cloudburst. Forts and plantations were 
damaged, the yam crops in Maldivia 
Gardens were covered with stones, houses 
and cellars were invaded by torrents. The 
heaviest flood in recent years occurred in 
1878, when houses and stores in 
Jamestown were ruined, bridges were 
destroyed, and the streets were blocked 
for days with trees brought down by the 
sudden rush of water. Two lives were lost. 
When you cross the old moat and pass 
through the portcullis on to the Jamestown 
lower parade, turn to your left and you 
will find an inscribed stone showing the 
height to which the flood waters rose 

before they burst through the gateway to 
the sea. 

I was driving a tiny, borrowed car up the 
zig-zag Ladder Hill road one day when I 
saw a memorial tablet in the rock. It gave 
the names of nine people who were killed 
on April 17, 1890, when fifteen hundred 
tons of rock fell from that spot into Jame- 

Wherever I went on St. Helena I was 
conscious of the heights. Jamestown is 
especially aware of its cliffs. All through 
the island history you find fatal accidents 
caused by people falling over cliffs, or 
landslides crushing people to death. 
Heavy rains or great heat affect the 
treacherous volcanic rock, the basalt and 
loose shale in all the steep parts of the 
island. The disaster of 1890 was the most 
serious rock fall ever recorded; but the 
tragedy may occur again with even greater 
loss of life. It is like living below a 

Victims of the 1890 rock fall included a 
baby of one and a man of sixty. Twelve 
were injured, fourteen houses were 
wrecked and large portions of the road 
were carried away. I looked down from 
the road and saw the very boulders which 
had caused all this destruction. 

High Rock, they call the place on the 
heights where the rock broke away, but 
the old name was Pierie's Revenge. 
Colonel Pierie, an engineer employed by 
the English East India Company, was so 
afraid of the place that he always rode 
past the overhanging rock at the gallop. 
He died in bed after all, but there was a 
rock fall at the spot in 1824, and then it 
was given Pierie's name. 

I prefer eye-witness stories to historical 
records, and I had no difficulty in finding 
old people who remembered the 1890 
disaster. "Everyone was in bed," Mr. 
Warren told me. "The rock tore down 
with a deafening roar at two o'clock in the 
morning, and with a sulphurous odour 

which made it seem as though Hell had 
opened. The night was so dark you could 
not cut it with a knife. It was ghastly. The 
whole town was panic-stricken, but no 
one knew where to run for safety." 

Most of the victims were crushed to death 
in bed. There were many freak effects and 
marvellous escapes. Two large rocks 
passed tight through Mrs. McLaughlin's 
house, but no one received more than a 
few bruises. A twenty-five ton rock fell 
into the yard of Miss Bagley's house, 
pierced the bedroom and pinned Miss 
Bagley between the bed and the wardrobe. 
She and many others were rescued by 
seamen from H.M.S. Archer, which was 
anchored off Jamestown that night. The 
seamen came on shore with tackles and 
bars, picks and shovels, and they dug out 
the injured and the dead by lantern-light. 
They also showed their sympathy by 
starting a relief fund; every man in the 
ship's company from the captain 
downwards gave one day's pay. 

Some islanders lived in caves at that time. 
It was forbidden many years ago; but in 
1890 a family had a cave in the cliff a 
little way below the area where the rock 
broke away. The rockslide passed right 
over the mouth of the cave without 
injuring the people inside. 

St. Helena is not as careful of its 
monuments as it might be. A lovely 
fountain (which some of you will 
remember) once stood outside the post 
office in Main Street in memory of the 
dead. It was provided as a thanksgiving by 
those who escaped the 1890 rock fall. 
Now it has made way for less decorative 
electric standards and motor-cars. 

On May 5, 1921, exactly a century after 
Napoleon's death, the battery on Ladder 
Hill fired minute guns in honour of the 
centenary. They fired fifty rounds that 
day, and another fifty rounds next day. 
Four days later the whole cliff on the 
seaward side of Ladder Hill slid gently 
down on to the rocks at sea level. No one 

was hurt on that occasion, but it was a 
reminder of the insecurity of many parts 
of Napoleon's isle. Geologists have 
estimated that the island has lost about 
one-third of its bulk since first it rose 
above the ocean. It will lose more. St. 
Helena is no place for letting off cannon. 

St. Helena has been a true Robinson 
Crusoe island on more than one occasion. 
Juan de Nova Castella, the Portuguese 
who discovered the island in 1501, left 
behind a number of goats, asses and pigs. 
(A pity about the goats.) Fifteen years 
later the island received its first settler. He 
was a Portuguese nobleman named 
Fernando Lopez, and he had been 
mutilated in Goa for desertion and 
treachery. His right hand, the thumb of his 
left hand, his ears and his nose had been 
cut off, but he had survived this torture 
and stowed away in a ship bound for 

The ship called at St. Helena for water. By 
this time Lopez had decided that he could 
not face his wife in his maimed condition, 
so he hid in the woods until the ship had 
left. Fortunately his shipmates had taken 
pity on him, and had left a barrel of 
biscuit, preserved beef, dried fish, salt and 
old clothes. They had lit a fire, which 
Lopez kept burning. In a farewell letter 
they advised Lopez to signal to any ship 
that called and ask for anything he 

One of the old Portuguese historians, 
Correa, put together a vivid and detailed 
account of the adventure of Lopez. It 
seems that the maimed exile was not 
altogether unhappy, for there was no one 
to look upon him with disgust or pity. At 
that time the island was covered with 
forest. Turtle crawled up on the beaches. 
Now and again he was able to kill one of 
the goats or pigs that were running wild. 
He gathered "many tender herbs which 
were savoury to eat". Fish were easily 

caught. After a time he discovered stones 
which gave out sparks, and he no longer 
bothered to keep the original fire going all 
the time. His home was in a cave which 
he had scooped out with his four fingers 
in Chapel Valley. 

A year went by, and then a Portuguese 
ship anchored off the valley. Fernando 
Lopez feared that he would be carried 
back to India and imprisoned, and he fled 
into the deep forests for sanctuary. From a 
cliff he watched the departure of the ship. 
When he reached his cave he found a 
store of biscuits, cheeses from Portugal, 
rice and other foodstuffs and a letter 
"bidding him not hide himself, but when 
any ship should touch there he should 
speak with it, for no one would harm 
him". Here was good news indeed for the 
hermit. And down on the beach he found 
a half drowned cock, which became his 

Nevertheless, Lopez had ceased to trust 
the human race, and for ten long years he 

took to the forests whenever a sail came 
round the cliffs of the valley. Hundreds of 
Portuguese seamen visited his cave. In the 
end King John III of Portugal heard the 
story of the St. Helena hermit and sent 
him a letter offering a free pardon and 
safe conduct to Lisbon if he cared to 

Lopez was still hesitating when a "Man 
Friday" arrived on the island in the shape 
of a Javanese slave boy who had deserted 
from a ship. They did not get on well 
together. When the next ship called, the 
Javanese offered to lead a party to the 
hiding-place of Lopez in the woods. In 
this way Lopez was rounded up at last; 
but the Portuguese captain did not hold 
him for long. He merely gave Lopez a 
written assurance that he would not be 
carried off to Portugal against his will; 
while Lopez promised that he would 
never again hide in the woods when ships 

There came a time when Lopez made the 
great decision to join a ship bound for 
Lisbon. Civilisation frightened him; yet he 
was received by his king and queen, 
travelled from Lisbon to Rome to confess 
his sins, and had an audience with the 
Pope. During this audience the Pope 
asked Lopez what his greatest wish, in life 
might be. "I yearn to go back to the peace 
of St. Helena, but I fear the King of 
Portugal may refuse this request," poor 
Lopez replied. 

With the influence of the Pope, however; 
Lopez soon returned to the island. This 
time he took many comforts with him. 
"He would shew himself and converse 
with the people of ships, and all gave him 
things to plant and to sow," Correa 
recorded. "Thus he cultivated a great 
many gourds, pomegranates and palm- 
trees, and kept ducks, hens, sows and she- 
goats with young, all of which increased 
largely, and all became wild in the 

Lopez died in 1545, after living alone for 
nearly thirty years in the quiet valley 
where Jamestown now stands. He was a 
true lover of solitude, and the island 
enabled him to overcome a handicap 
which would otherwise have tormented 
him throughout his life. 

The next Robinson Crusoes of St. Helena 
were slaves of both sexes, African and 
Javanese, who swam ashore from a 
Portuguese slaver. Such generous cover 
was provided by the old gum wood trees 
and other growths that it was impossible 
to trace a runaway. The slaves lived on 
the fruit and vegetable gardens planted by 
Lopez and the wild cattle and goats. It is 
not clear whether the little slave colony 
abandoned the island or died out; but a 
time came again when St. Helena was left 
to the animals, apart from periods when 
sick Portuguese seamen were put on shore 
to recover and join the next ship. 

Pirates looked in occasionally. Then there 
was Bermudez, the Patriarch of 

Abyssinia, a troublesome Portuguese who 
appears to have fallen out with the captain 
of his ship. Bermudez insisted upon being 
put on shore at St. Helena with his slaves, 
and he had to wait a year before another 
ship took him away. As far back as 1583, 
three Japanese ambassadors landed on the 
island. They were on their way to Rome, 
having been advised by some Jesuit 
missionaries to call on the Pope; a strange 
voyage considering the remoteness of 
Japan at that period and long afterwards. 

For nearly a century the Portuguese and 
their friends the Spanish managed to keep 
the very existence of St. Helena a deep 
secret. No ships but Portuguese had 
sighted the island. At last a Spanish 
galleon was looted and burnt by the 
English sea rover, Captain John 
Cavendish, who extracted the secret of St. 
Helena from the galleon's pilot. 
Cavendish found the island in 1588 and 
left an excellent account of his visit. The 
only inhabitants were slaves; but he 

inspected a tiled church in the valley and 
two houses. "This valley is the fairest and 
largest low plot in all the island, and it is 
marvellously sweet and pleasant, and 
planted in every place with fruit trees or 
with herbs," Cavendish wrote. "There are 
in this island thousands of goats, which 
are very wild: sometimes you may behold 
them going in a flock almost a mile long. 
We took and killed many of them for all 
their swiftness, for there be thousands of 
them upon the mountains." 

Cavendish did not realise it at the time, 
but these goats were to become the curse 
of the island, horned devils eating crops 
and indigenous growths. Only in 
comparatively recent years has this pest 
come under a measure of control. 
However, the goats evidently kept out of 
the cultivated area during Cavendish's 
visit, for he described the valley as "so 
full of fruit trees and excellent plants that 
it seemed like a fair and well-cultivated 
garden, having long rows of lemon, 

orange, citron, pomegranate, date and fig- 
trees, delighting the eye with blossoms, 
green and ripe fruit all at once". 

Among the early Dutch callers was Van 
Linschoten, who described St. Helena as 
"an earthly Paradise for the Portuguese 
ships, and seemeth to have been 
miraculously discovered for the refreshing 
and service of the same". There came a 
time when the Portuguese hardly dared to 
anchor off the island they had colonised; 
for, as an observer of the period wrote: 
"the English and Dutch, in the churlish 
language of a cannon, sometimes disputed 
their property." 

St. Helena was deserted when Van 
Riebeeck founded the Cape settlement. 
Thus he was able to send the galiot Tulp 
to the island in 1654 to meet the Dutch 
return fleet from the East and secure 
necessities such as rice, sugar and wheat. 
On later occasions the island itself 
supplied certain of Van Riebeeck' s needs, 
for the ship Nachtglas brought him fruit 

trees from there. The famous Kakamas 
peach, a yellow cling variety, is actually a 
descendant of the peach which Van 
Riebeeck imported from the island. Then 
came the English occupation of St. Helena 
under Captain John Dutton in 1658, and 
the island ceased to be a no-man's-land. 

Chapter 22 

"Every Man Has His Price" 

St. HELENA IS a dot in the South Atlantic, 
but it has many claims to fame. Probably 
it is the only island in the world with a 
population running into thousands which 
can claim to have lived through more than 
a century with only one murder. Old 
islanders told me all about that murder, 
from every angle, and described the 
Governor's dilemma when the two 
murderers had to be executed. I heard 
queer tales of other crimes within living 
memory and the crimes of long ago. They 
traced for my benefit, in old St. Helena 
Almanacs, the career of a character named 

James Francis Homagee, a Parsee, who 
was given the choice of death for some 
unspecified crime in India or the hang- 
man's job on the island. (In the middle of 
last century it was considered the right 
thing to go abroad for a hangman.) 
Homagee never had to carry out an 
execution. At first he walked round 
Jamestown with a tin on his head selling 
fish. Then he became messenger at the 
Castle. He secured a post as clerk and 
towards the end of last century he rose to 
be chief magistrate of the island. 
Homagee certainly made the right choice. 

In a dark little room in the Castle I spent 
hours examining the St. Helena archives, 
including criminal records covering 
hundreds of years. This island has had its 
full share of cruelty and torture, mutinies 
and hangings. In a seventeenth century 
conspiracy thirteen men "in open day" 
shot Governor Johnson at the Castle and 
escaped in the ship Francis and Mary. 
Rebellious slaves were hung, drawn and 

quartered, while some were "hanged in 
chains alive and starved to death". 

Records of the quarter sessions and other 
criminal trials which I studied, some 
trivial and others serious, bring to life 
many events which shook island society. 
Idle, gossiping women, scolds and tale- 
bearers, mischief-makers and scandal 
mongers were ducked in the sea or 
whipped. Erring slaves were branded, or 
burning sealing wax was dropped on their 
shuddering limbs. One slave who had 
poisoned several people was burnt to 
death, and all the blacks on the island had 
to bring fuel and watch the execution. 
Soldiers were flogged and drummed out 
of the garrison with halters round their 
necks. Thieving slaves had their right 
hands cut off. 

One of the company's officers, who had 
an illicit love affair with a widow, was 
called to task by the governor. He insulted 
the governor, whereupon he was degraded 
before the garrison, his sword was broken 

over his head, and he was forced to stand 
in the pillory with his paramour. Two 
centuries ago four white men who beat a 
woman slave to death were fined six 
pounds ten shillings between them. Often 
a black would be condemned to death 
while a white accomplice would receive a 
light sentence. Until late in the eighteenth 
century the evidence of a black was not 
admissible against white people. Elizabeth 
Renton, who murdered one of her female 
slaves with a carving knife, escaped for 
this reason. 

Among the earliest entries I found in the 
Council records (1678) was a mention of 
an inquest on one Thomas Green. "Body 
taken up," ran the record. "Trial by 
touching the dead body. Three persons 
committed on verdict of manslaughter." 
At this period, too, W. Melling was 
ordered to ride the wooden horse with a 
bag of shot at each heel; his crime was 
"swearing and incivility". 

Soon afterwards Elizabeth Starling 
assaulted and abused the captain of the 
ship Charles the Second, while her 
husband threatened to beat the captain 
"and to make the sun shine through him". 
Apparently the husband was acquitted, but 
Elizabeth received fifteen lashes on her 
naked body and was ducked three times. 

Two runaway apprentices, Rowland and 
Eastings, broke into a house, took a 
fowling piece and killed a sow. Each lad 
had the tip of his right ear cut off, his 
forehead branded with the letter "R", and 
a pair of pothooks riveted round his neck. 
They were also flogged round the town. 

Then there was the impudent Corporal 
Bowyer who married a widow, Mrs. 
Simms, before the circumstances could be 
considered by the Governor in council. 
Bowyer was reduced to private and 
imprisoned, while ten acres and eight 
head of cattle belonging to Mrs. Simms 
were seized. 

The court dealt with the apprentice 
Eastings again not long after the episode 
of the sow. He was only fourteen, but he 
had committed so many thefts that some 
members thought he should be hanged. 
Here is the final decisions: "Looking on 
him as a youth who may become a good 
man, it was ordered that he be whipped 
under the gallows and then sent away off 
the island in the ship Resolution." It 
seems that the Resolution was selected 
because she was a dangerous, leaky vessel 
which was expected to founder during the 
voyage to England. However, the 
sentence was regarded by the directors of 
the English East India Company as far too 
lenient. "We are ashamed that our aged 
Governor should be guilty of so great a 
folly," came the reprimand from London. 

John Knipe complained to the island 
council that Bridget Coales had failed to 
marry him as promised. She sat on the lap 
of the butcher of the ship Modena and let 
him kiss her. Knipe asked her whether he 

was not as good as the butcher, 
whereupon she called him "down look 
dog" and compared him with an old dog 
owned by her father. Bridget had to pay 
fifteen pounds damages. 

According to the records, chaplains and 
doctors were among the most troublesome 
of the Company's officials stationed on 
St. Helena during the eighteenth century. 
"Dr. Wignall always drunk and nearly 
killed the Governor by giving unsuitable 
medicines, his excuse being he had 
nothing else to give," runs an entry in 
1725. "The doctor, for drunken and 
disorderly conduct, placed in the stocks 
for one hour, and he sung and swore the 
whole time." 

Seven years later it was recorded that Mr. 
White the chaplain and his wife had for a 
long time "led very scandalous and 
immoral lives, the woman having been 
drunk almost every day she has been on 
the island, and Mr. White himself often in 
the same condition and always rude and 

troublesome." For sixteen months Mr. 
White had neither dined nor supped with 
his wife. This conduct was "highly 
resented by all the good Dames of this 
place, and we believe, and the woman 
says, that this cold, unkind usage is the 
cause of her giving herself up to liquor 
and ill company." It is not clear from the 
records how the Company dealt with 

Totty, a slave, was tried for running away 
repeatedly and living a freebooter's life. 
Members of the jury had suffered from 
Totty 's raids, and they petitioned the 
Governor to have Totty executed. This 
was granted. He was drawn on a cart by 
other runaway slaves to the place of 
execution and hanged. 

Those were hard times for slaves. Moll, a 
slave woman owned by Mrs. Gurling, was 
sentenced to three hundred lashes (to be 
given in three instalments) and to be 
branded on her cheek for breaking into a 
country house and stealing one rupee. Yet 

when George Alexander stripped his slave 
Abigail and beat her cruelly with a 
rawhide whip, he was fined forty 
shillings. Even in 1810 a free black named 
Nancy May was given two hundred lashes 
for stealing fowls. She was tied to a cart, 
wearing a paper bearing the words "Fowl 
Stealer", and beaten in different parts of 
the town. 

Ladder Hill above Jamestown was known 
in the earliest days of the English 
settlement as Fort Hill. For a century the 
gallows stood there. People on board 
ships in the harbour and everyone in 
Jamestown could see the bodies hanging 
in chains, according to the brutal custom, 
as a warning to others. 

Sorcerers and witches were burnt to death. 
Lawyers were deported "lest the people 
should occupy their minds with litiga- 
tion". (To this day there is not a lawyer in 
private practice on the island.) There was 
also a strong prejudice against such decent 
folk as the Quakers. An entry in 1680 

reads: "William Saddler is discovered to 
be a Quaker, for which and other bad 
behaviour he is ordered to leave the 

Ensign Slaughter, who was accused of 
slandering the Governor, was flogged. If 
you go through the records carefully to 
the date when the sentence was carried 
out, you will discover that the wretched 
officer was flogged with wire whips and 
fish hooks tied to a cane. 

Men and women, white or black, were 
usually stripped when flogged. An 
unusual entry appears in 1733, when a 
planter named John Long was sentenced 
for receiving stolen yams from the Briars. 
The warrant reads: "You are to whip the 
said John Long publicly with ten lashes, 
but in regard he hath been a planter here, 
you may for this first time let him receive 
the shame of this punishment with his 
clothes on. You are to make your prisoner 
fast to the tail of the wooden horse, and 
read this to him before you whip him." 

Soldiers of the St. Helena garrison loved 
their taverns and punch-houses. When 
these places were put out of bounds 
towards the end of the eighteenth century, 
the troops mutinied. Led by a sergeant, 
they marched out of their barracks with 
bayonets fixed and drums beating, aiming 
at seizing the artillery and ammunition 
depot on top of Ladder Hill. Governor 
Corneille pacified them for a time; but the 
mutiny soon broke out again with the 
officers and a body of loyal men fighting 
it out with the rest of the Company's 
soldiers. They started with muskets and 
ended with both sides using field guns. At 
last the mutineers surrendered. Many of 
them escaped in the darkness, mixed with 
the loyal troops and pretended they had 
played no part in the mutiny. All the 
known mutineers were tried by court- 
martial, and ninety-nine were condemned 
to death. Even in those days the 
authorities were reluctant to carry out a 

mass slaughter, so the men drew lots and 
one in ten was shot. 

For stealing a piece of cloth from a sailor 
in the street, one William Whaley was 
hanged. Not many years later (in 1800) a 
slave was hanged for snatching a bottle of 
liquor from a drunken soldier. These 
crimes were regarded as highway robbery. 

St. Helena's most prominent landmark is 
the great ridge on the north-east coast 
known as the Barn. It dominates the 
Longwood plain, and Napoleon must have 
hated the sight of it; though nowadays 
some people see an outline of Napoleon 
on his death bed along the edge of the 
Barn. Wild goats, descended from the 
goats left by the Portuguese, have lived in 
the inaccessible caves of the Barn for 
centuries. You have to be a fine climber to 
follow those goats along the narrow 
ledges, and if you fall the sea is hundreds 
of feet below. Nevertheless, these perilous 
heights once provided a sanctuary for a 

raider who is still remembered on the 

A party of islanders were stalking the wild 
goats with shot guns and rifles one day in 
1897, when there were more goats than 
you will find now. Two brothers named 
Legg were there with George Duncan; and 
they related this queer tale to Mr. Edward 
Constantine, the history lover, who passed 
it on to me with meticulous accuracy. 

The islanders followed a goat along a 
dangerous "vein" on the west side, 
clinging to a precipice which hangs over 
the sea. Suddenly they came to a cave 
with an entrance just large enough for a 
man to squeeze inside. It looked as though 
the stone "doorway" had been built by 
human hands. "One man could keep an 
army out of that cave," Constantine told 
me. "A push, and an intruder would fall 
three hundred feet into the sea." 

Abandoning the goat hunt, the three 
islanders climbed into the cave and 

explored it. They found a bed made of 
slate and other stones, a pair of blue cloth 
trousers which fell to pieces when 
touched, a stone club and a chopper made 
from the heel of a scythe. A bag contained 
ten pounds of salt; there was a good razor 
wrapped in flannel; a whetstone, tinder- 
box flint and steel; some jerked beef still 
fit to eat; a bottle of water and a large 
amount of island tobacco done up in rolls. 
The cave dweller had made shelves of flat 
stone slabs. A smaller cave had been used 
as a kitchen. 

This was the lair of an eccentric hermit 
named Louden' s Ben, a deserter from a 
Portuguese ship. Ben worked on the 
Longwood farms for some years. 

Then he went queer in the head, 
and from time to time he would tell the 
farmers: "The white goat on the Barn is 
calling me." He would disappear for 
weeks at a time. In 1874 he took to 
raiding the poultry-runs and vegetable 
patches, and fired on the police when they 

tried to arrest him. After that he was never 
seen again, though signs of his raids on 
the farms were obvious enough. Some of 
the boldest climbers on the island 
searched the Barn, for everyone knew he 
was there; but no one imagined that a 
human being could reach the unknown 
cave on the seaward side of the Barn 
where Ben lived. The "vein" followed by 
the goat-hunters must have been enlarged 
by the passage of the goats when the 
Leggs and Duncan reached the cave. Few 
people indeed have visited the place from 
that day to this, for it is still a most 
formidable climb. The fate of Louden' s 
Ben has never been settled, for no 
skeleton was found; but he must have 
fallen into the sea far below his cave. A 
rock at the foot of the precipice is known 
to the fishermen as Louden Ben's Rock. 

I have said that St. Helena has known 
only one murder in more than a century. 
There was a public execution in 1850 
(before Homagee's arrival) when a half- 

caste named Lowry, a slave descendant, 
murdered a servant girl at Fox's Folly, 
near Napoleon's tomb. 

St. Helena islanders are among the 
mildest and most law abiding of people. 
Thus the island was deeply shocked in 
1881 when the news arrived that a St. 
Helenan named Lefroy had been found 
guilty of a revolting murder in a railway 
compartment on the Brighton train. He 
had shot and knifed an elderly man and 
robbed him of money and a gold watch 
and chain. Lefroy hid in a Stepney 
boarding-house, but his landlady 
identified him by a portrait in a 
newspaper. That was the first occasion on 
which a murderer was caught and hanged 
as a result of that particular form of 

St. Helena itself remained undisturbed by 
murder throughout the second half of last 
century, but there was a sinister incident 
in 1888 which might easily have ended in 
murder. This was the arrival of Deeming, 

a fugitive who was "wanted" for the 
murder of eight women and several 

Deeming spent some weeks on St. Helena 
in the hope of dodging the police. There 
was no cable to the island at that time, and 
no one suspected that he was a murderer. 
He applied to the firm of Solomon for a 
position as clerk, but - happily for the 
island - he was turned down and left soon 
afterwards. No doubt his murderous 
instincts would have come to the surface 
again. Deeming accosted and frightened a 
number of island girls during his stay, but 
went no further. 

A fugitive of a different sort, but also 
equipped with an alias, was living quietly 
on St. Helena at this time and for long 
afterwards. He was a Fenian conspirator 
from Ireland named Robert Farrell, who 
had turned Queen's evidence in a murder 
trial and had been sent abroad by the 
British authorities. Another informer, 
James Carey, had been followed out of the 

country and shot dead on board ship in 
South African waters by a Fenian who 
had sworn revenge. With this episode in 
mind, the British Government decided 
that St. Helena would be a safe place for 
Farrell. And so it was. He spent many 
years there, and was killed by an 
accidental fall of rock at Rupert's Bay. 

So little crime occurred during Governor 
Sterndale's period of office (1897-1902) 
that he was presented with white gloves at 
all but two of the fourteen criminal 
sessions over which he presided. Not long 
afterwards the long, bloodless period was 
broken. It was late in October 1904 that a 
young signalman named Robert Gunnell 
bought a gold chain and pendant in Mrs. 
George's shop in Jamestown. He told 
Mrs. George that this jewellery was a 
present for his girl, and that he hoped she 
would marry him. Gunnell went back 
happily to Prosperous Bay signal station, 
for he had been accepted. 

On the first of November a police 
constable at Longwood heard the report of 
a gun in the distance, and thought 
someone was shooting rabbits. Next day, 
however, there was no response to a 
telephone call to the Prosperous Bay 
signal station. When the police arrived, 
poor Gunnell was lying dead with a 
shotgun wound in the back of his head. 

Suspicion fell immediately on two 
brothers, Richard and Lewis Crowie, idle 
fellows who had already been convicted 
of several robberies. The Crowies were 
arrested and taken to the home of 
Constable Constantine at Longwood. 
While they were there, Constantine' s little 
daughter saw Lewis Crowie throw a gold 
watch into the hedge. It was Gunnell' s 

Soon afterwards the Crowies signed a 
confession. They had stolen a shotgun and 
cartridges from Mr. Bassett Legg in 
Jamestown, and then walked to the signal 
station and told Gunnell that they had 

been fishing. Gunnell lived alone. He 
invited the Crowies to tea, and they were 
about to sit down when one of the 
Crowies shouted: "There's a ship out 
there." Gunnell went to fetch his 
telescope, and while his back was turned 
one of the brothers shot him from behind. 

Lt.-Col. Sir Henry Galway, Governor and 
Chief justice, presided at the trial. The 
jury returned with a unanimous verdict of 
guilty, and sentence of death was passed. 
Galway then set about finding a hangman. 
He thought it would be a difficult task, for 
there was no official executioner on the 
island. Among the troops on St. Helena 
was a company of Lancashire Fusiliers. 
They were paraded at the Governor's 
request, and their captain asked for two 
volunteers to act as hangmen, each man to 
receive five pounds. "Volunteers - one 
pace forward ... march!" yelled the 
sergeant major. Ninety men stepped 
forward. Two were selected. 

Next day, however, Corporal Shoesmith 
of the police and John Williams, 
government carpenter, called on Sir Henry 
Galway and pointed out how unfair it 
would be to allow so much money to go 
to outsiders. They were both old soldiers, 
and they claimed that they should have 
been given first refusal of the job. 

Galway gave them the job. The carpenter 
built the gallows in the old wood store 
next to the gaol at the foot of Jacob's 
Ladder. The Crowie brothers were 
executed on February 2, 1905. "It taught 
me that every man has his price," 
commented Sir Henry Galway. "I must 
say that those two amateurs performed 
their duty like old hands." 

That was St. Helena's last murder, and I 
think the rest of this century will pass 
without another call for volunteers. 
During my month on the island, in 
December 1954, the skeleton of a 
European woman aged about thirty was 
found embedded in sand at Sandy Bay. 

The teeth were perfect, without fillings. 
There was no possible means of 
identification, but rumours that the 
woman had been murdered ran round the 
island. Some said it was the skeleton of 
the actress, Eileen "Gay" Gibson, 
murdered at sea by the steward Camb and 
pushed through the porthole. 
Superintendent Ogborn of the St. Helena 
Police decided against the murder theory. 
This was probably a victim of an enemy 
submarine in World War II, washed up 
and buried in sand, and uncovered more 
than a decade later by the restless sea. 

If you settle on St. Helena you can rule 
out all crimes of violence and sleep with 
your doors and windows unlocked. 
Burglaries are rare, and when they do 
occur it is usually found that the hungry 
burglar has left the valuables untouched 
and spent all his time in the pantry. 

Chapter 23 
Some Found Happiness 

DRIVE OUT of Jamestown by the steep 
Side Path road, and after a mile you may 
look down on one of those fine country 
estates for which St. Helena is famous. 
This is "The Briars". At a glance you can 
understand why Napoleon felt so strongly 
drawn to the place as he rode past during 
his first day of exile on the island. 

"The Briars" was a yam plantation and 
government farm in the seventeenth 
century. When the Emperor noticed it, the 
place was privately owned and shaded by 
a variety of beautiful trees. Among the 
great laurels and palms stood a quaint 
little pavilion. Napoleon rode up the drive 

and asked whether he could move into the 
pavilion immediately. 

William Balcombe, owner of "The Briars" 
was a fat, wealthy man who lived well. 
According to island legend, he was an 
illegitimate son of the Prince Regent of 
England. He was a banker, ship's 
chandler, and East India Company's 
financial agent. Balcombe and his wife 
entertained generously, and gave dances 
in the pavilion, of oriental design, which 
had caught Napoleon's eye. They offered 
Napoleon their own house, but he did not 
wish to disturb them. So that day 
Napoleon occupied the dancing pavilion, 
a single room with two doors and six 
windows, while his servants pitched tents 
and his chef prepared dinner in an arbour. 

In recent years the pavilion has become a 
complete house, the home of the cable 
station manager. It is still a charming 
place. I found the view and the climate 
pleasing; for "The Briars" stands above 
the heat of the valley yet below the mists 

which some find depressing. Much of the 
original design and ornate decoration 
remain unaltered. I copied the plaque 
beside the front door: "The Duke of 
Wellington stayed in this house when he 
returned from India in July 1805. The 
Emperor Napoleon also lived here from 
the 18th of October until the 10th of 
December 1815, before taking up his 
residence at Longwood House." 

Those were Napoleon's happiest weeks 
on St. Helena, I imagine. He formed his 
friendship with mischievous, precocious, 
fourteen year-old Betsy Balcombe, with 
her blue eyes and blonde curls. She stole 
his papers, accused him of eating frogs, 
swung a sabre dangerously round his 
head, denounced him for cheating at cards 
and slapped the face of the courtier Las 
Cases. The bungalow where the 
Balcombes lived is in ruins, but I peered 
into the cellar where Betsy was locked up 
all night as a punishment. She spent the 

It is still a charming place. I found the climate 

Among the great laurels and palms stood a quaint little pavilion. Napoleon rode up the drive and asked 
whether he could move into the pavilion immediatley. 

dark hours terror-stricken, throwing her 
father's wine bottles at the rats. 

What a place to live, amid such 
memories! I wandered in the old garden 
where the wild dog-roses called briars 
grow to this day; and I pictured Napoleon 
talking to the slave gardener Toby, the 
man whose freedom he tried to buy. In 
Balcombe's time this estate produced 
many of the fruits of Europe and Africa; 
and after Balcombe had fed his own large 
household, the surplus fetched six 
hundred pounds a year. Balcombe had a 
brewery there, too. Yet in spite of these 
profitable enterprises, Balcombe ran into 
debt and finally, sold the lovely place to 
Isaac Moss, partner and close relative of 
the first Saul Solomon. 

"The Briars" became a silk worm farm in 
1828, a man named Walker having paid 
nine thousand pounds for it. Mulberry 
groves were planted. A Chinese labourer 
was sent all the way to China, returning 
with the silk worms. However, the venture 

failed. Saul Solomon bought "The Briars" 
for four hundred pounds; later the Moss 
family regained possession of "The 
Briars" and lived there for decades last 
century. Miss Phoebe Moss was 
responsible for importing and releasing 
the mynah birds which are now too 
plentiful, and too fond of fruit. She also 
introduced South African frogs, but these 
appear to be harmless. 

Early this century the Eastern Telegraph 
Company bought "The Briars" and moved 
up from the house at Rupert's Bay where 
the cable was landed. Cable companies 
used to send pre-fabricated buildings of 
uniform design to their outposts; and these 
bungalows now stand among the banyans 
and bananas. For many years, cables were 
sent by hand and besides the executives 
there were forty operators, all bachelors, 
living at "The Briars". The old estate 
became the social centre of the island. 
Many servants were employed. The forty 
bachelors had forty ponies, a bowling 

green, a library with thousands of books, 
and a mess where guests were entertained 
magnificently. Some of the servants built 
cottages round the estate, so that people 
talked of "The Briars village". It is hardly 
a village, though it is the only group of 
houses outside Jamestown on the island 
which might possibly rank as a hamlet. 

Not far from "The Briars" is Chubb's 
Spring, where Napoleon sometimes 
walked. Captain Bennet of the infantry 
had a house at the spring in those days; 
and when Napoleon died, Bennet gave his 
handsome dining-room table so that the 
carpenter could make a coffin. 

On the road just above "The Briars" is 
Button-up Corner. The change of climate 
is so sudden that the riders of old buttoned 
their greatcoats. Near here a path runs to a 
cottage where the island's lepers are 
segregated; just two or three afflicted 
people living amid great beauty. Still 
climbing, you come to Alarm House, 
where two guns were placed towards the 

end of the seventeenth century to fire a 
signal when ships were sighted. Here, too, 
is Alarm Cottage, which can be hired by 
visitors complete with a skilled St. Helena 
cook, and at such a reasonable rate that 
you seem to have stepped back into the 
past. On the farm outside you can study 
the island produce growing abundantly. 
No house on St. Helena nowadays fetches 
as much as it cost to build. Alarm Cottage, 
with several acres of good agricultural 
land, changed hands at five hundred 
pounds when last it was sold. 

Now the road skirts the great hollow 
called the Devil's Punchbowl and the 
empty, nameless tomb where Napoleon's 
body lay from 1821 to 1840. I believe that 
he only visited the site of his grave once 
in his life, and drank from a spring. You 
find a cottage and a caretaker at this spot; 
once the tomb was guarded by a French 
army sergeant, but now a St. Helenan 
tends this little patch of France within the 
iron railings. The caretaker comes out 

with glasses on a tray so that visitors may 
drink from Napoleon's spring. 

Perhaps you remember the incident when 
Napoleon's funeral ended and his French 
followers broke off a few branches from 
the willow over the grave before returning 
to Longwood. That willow died soon after 
World War II, but cuttings were known to 
have been taken to Australia. Slips from 
the Australian offshoots were nurtured, on 
instructions from General Smuts, by the 
forestry department near Stellenbosch; 
and they were planted at the tomb on the 
one hundred and twenty-eighth 
anniversary of Napoleon's death. 

The road to Longwood leads past Halley's 
Mount, where the seventeenth century 
comet discoverer set up his telescope to 
observe a transit of Mercury, but failed 
owing to mist. It goes on past Hutt's Gate, 
though there was never a man named 
Hutt; the huts of the slaves stood there. 

Longwood and the neighbouring 
Deadwood once formed one property 
known as the Great Wood. Old plans 
show this large, deep forest. Melliss, 
writing in 1875, declared there were 
people still living in St. Helena who 
remembered losing their way in the 
Longwood gum forests. The area had 
become a grassy plain with hardly a tree. 
"I searched in vain for forest trees and 
shrubs that flourished in tens of thousands 
not a century ago," wrote Melliss. 
"Probably one hundred St. Helena plants 
have thus disappeared since the first 
introduction of goats on the island. Every 
one of these was a link in the chain of 
created beings, which contained within 
itself evidence of the affinities of other 
species, both living and extinct, but which 
evidence is now irrecoverably lost." 
Today it is hard to believe that people 
vanished in the forests described by 
Melliss, and were never seen again. 

Goats cannot destroy full-grown forests. 
What happened was that the old trees died 
and the goats destroyed the saplings. 
Governor Beatson imported many exotics 
early last century; English broom and 
brambles, Scotch pines and gorse, bushes 
from the Cape. These new growths 
overran the island and extinguished much 
of the indigenous flora. Beatson also 
destroyed most of the goats, but he was 
too late. 

Deadwood Plain, of course, was covered 
with the tents of Boer prisoners of war, 
mainly Transvaalers, in the first years of 
this century. Old people in St. Helena still 
speak well of the prisoners. They had the 
sympathy of the islanders, and it was 
considered a huge joke when they 
succeeded in eluding their guards and 
reaching the taverns of Jamestown 
unobserved. One man, an Englishman by 
birth who had fought for the Boers, 
married an island girl and opened a 
bakery. "Boer" Smith, as he is called, was 

still living in retirement on the island 
while I was there. Indeed, he had only left 
the island once, to see his mother. 

Such a wealth of history, so much 
literature has grown up round Longwood 
that I had intended to skirt Longwood Old 
House with no more than a passing 
mention. The Napoleonic legend has 
overshadowed an island which has seen 
many dramatic episodes apart from the 
Captivity period. However, I spent a 
morning at Longwood and became 
hypnotised, as so many other writers have 
done before me. 

I saw Longwood almost as Napoleon left 
it. You may remember that the old 
farmhouse reverted to its original purpose 
after Napoleon's death. For some years 
the farm was owned and worked by a 
member of the Moss family. The rooms, 
sacred to all who respect the relics of 
history, became storerooms and stables; 
even the salon where Napoleon died. 
Souvenir hunters looted the place and 

scribbled their names on the walls. Even 
the wallpaper was torn off by visitors. 
Rats took up their abode in ceilings and 

France gained possession of Longwood a 
century ago, and some restoration was 
carried out. Longwood has known many 
vicissitudes, but in recent years no money 
has been spared in preserving the historic 
farmhouse. Furniture and other articles 
used by Napoleon have been sent back to 
Longwood, some from France, others 
from different parts of St. Helena. I saw 
the globes of the earth and the sky, 
bearing the marks of Napoleon's finger- 
nails. There were the sideboards used by 
the priest Vignali when he celebrated 
Mass. The original copper bath, where 
Napoleon lay dictating his memoirs, was 
back in its place. And I rolled a ball by 
hand over the billiard table, following 
Napoleon's custom. 

I walked in the garden, too, along those 
deep paths which Napoleon followed 

because the hated sentries could not see 
him. Pending under the wind was a tree of 
the cypress species, and an evergreen oak, 
which were there in Napoleon's day. I 
thought of the years of wind and rain 
which the French exiles endured at 
Longwood. (The island golf club is at 
Longwood, but few people who know the 
island would care to live in such an 
exposed spot.) Napoleon needed the 
garden walls and the pergola with the 
passion vine. 

Longwood must have been an 
uncomfortable place in Napoleon's day. I 
went up the stairs and walked under the 
slate roof, and I was surprised to hear that 
the servants lived in those crowded garrets 
over the rooms of Napoleon's staff. At 
one period there were more than fifty 
people, masters and servants, herded in 
this farmhouse. 

In the yard I noticed a small out-building 
attached to a wall and inquired innocently: 
"Was that Napoleon's lavatory?" My 

guide replied with dignity: "The Emperor 
used only a commode." 

Labourers digging in the garden while I 
was at Longwood brought to the surface 
scraps and fragments which called the 
Captivity to my eyes more vividly than 
any of the museum pieces. They found 
buttons of the St. Helena Regiment, coins 
bearing the names of Solomon, Dickson 
and Taylor, and the very broken glass of 
the wine bottles which caused so much 
trouble with the Governor, Sir Hudson 
Lowe. Perhaps you did not realise that 
even Napoleon was supposed to return his 
empty bottles. They disposed of a 
thousand bottles of wine a month at 
Longwood. I will not say they drank so 
much, for there is evidence that 
Napoleon's servants sold wine to the 
soldiers of the guard. Sir Hudson Lowe 
was appalled by the cost, and asked for 
the return of the empties. To show their 
contempt, Napoleon's servants broke 
many bottles deliberately. Lowe was 

extremely angry when he found the 
shattered glass in the garden, and 
threatened to cut off the Emperor's wine. 
So the gardeners still unearth these relics. 
The pieces they showed me were 
fragments of champagne bottles, with 
thick green glass. 

Across the valley from Longwood stands 
a country-house now called Teutonic Hall, 
but once the residence of the Miss Polly 
Mason who was said to have signalled to 
Napoleon. She was an eccentric old maid 
who rode about the island on an ox. 
Napoleon liked visiting her; but there was 
never a love affair with her or anyone else 
to lighten Napoleon's exile. Napoleon's 
servants, however, left children on the 
island. His valet, Marchand, had two 
children by an island girl named Esther 
Vesey, and was rebuked for it. All the 
servants were more or less free to roam 
Jamestown, thus adding a very small 
French strain to the island mixture. 

Thousands who call at St. Helena, 
spending part of a day before their ship 
moves on, carry away nothing more than a 
few impressions of Jamestown and the 
drive of five miles to Longwood. This is 
better than nothing, but there is time for 
more. St. Helena is an island of quaint and 
beautiful names and memorable places. 
Anyone who fails to gaze upon the Sandy 
Bay scene misses one of the seven 
wonders of the seas. This district is part of 
a great volcanic crater; a basin composed 
of naked black mountains, fantastic peaks, 
volcanic vents, ridges and ravines, varied 
by the rich green botanical wonders of the 
island summit. 

I looked out over this staggering 
panorama from Rose Cottage, home of the 
Lunns, who were previously in Uganda. 
They bought Rose Cottage and an acre of 
garden for seven hundred pounds a few 
years ago. Pheasants are a nuisance in the 
garden, but they have fowls and ducks, 
rabbits and sheep. A very old Seville 

orange tree probably came from Spain or 
Portugal. Plum trees yield enormous 

Mr. Lunn pointed out the Sandy Bay 
landmarks. Most prominent of all is the 
spiral rock called Lot, rising nearly three 
hundred feet above the hill on which it 
stands. It has been climbed, but only at 
great risk. Mutinous slaves once took 
refuge in a cave at the foot of Lot. They 
held out for days, rolling stones down on 
their attackers. According to the records, 
"a brisk young man named Worrall" 
climbed Lot behind and above the slaves. 
"Then they hove down rocks in their turn 
and beat down the chief of the slaves so 
much bruised that he died, at which all the 
people in Sandy Bay had great 
satisfaction, for they had suffered much 
from them." 

Beyond the Lot rock are Lot's Wife and 
the Asses' Ears. Here, too, in the volcanic 
upheaval are the Devil's Garden and the 
Gates of Chaos. I saw the black face of 

Cole's Rock, where the slave-owner Cole 
was just about to flog one of his men 
when all the other slaves turned on him 
and threw him over the cliff. 

Jenkins, the man whose ear caused so 
much trouble when it was cut off by the 
Spaniards - the War of Jenkins' Ear, you 
remember - once lived in this crater. He 
was governor of the island in 1741, and 
his old house Lemon Grove has a plaque 
in the wall. Some of the East India 
Company's gardens were in this huge 
bowl, irrigated by the best stream in the 
island. Date palms are old and enormous, 
and there are many pomegranates. Virgin 
Hall, a very old estate, still produces fine 
vegetables and bananas of the best 
flavour. Rats feed on wild olives. The 
Sandy Bay beach, where a party of Boer 
War prisoners seized a boat and tried to 
escape, has been washed away. Fishing 
boats no longer use it, and there are times 
when even a turtle would find landing 
dangerous. Barracks and cannon of the 

old fort on the shore have fallen into the 

Grandest of the residences above Sandy 
Bay is Mount Pleasant, visited more than 
once by Napoleon. The owner at that time 
was Mr. (later Sir) William Doveton, born 
and brought up on the island, and 
possessed of a simple island outlook. 
Napoleon brought his own food from 
Longwood, and Doveton thought it was 
indeed a sumptuous breakfast - 
champagne, cold pie, potted meat, cold 
turkey, curried fowl, ham, dates, almonds, 
oranges, salad and coffee. Cason's is 
another high estate, named after an officer 
who commanded the troops under seven 
governors. Bamboo Hedge is a flax mill 
nowadays. Blarney House, Blarney 
bridge, and the old dairy farm called 
Fairyland are also in this neighbourhood. 

You will have gathered that St. Helena is 
an island of quaint and beautiful names. 
Dolly's Chop House has vanished, but 
Distant Cottage is still there; far in the 

south of the island beyond Lot's Wife 
Wood. West Lodge has a ghost legend. A 
slave was flogged to death there, and a 
slave orchestra played to drown his cries. 
They say you can still hear that music. 
Someone played a practical joke there on 
a soldier of the St. Helena garrison during 
World War II. The victim had to have 
mental treatment. 

Mount Eternity, Rosemary Hall, Myrtle 
Grove, Wild Ram Spring, Spyglass, Blue 
Point, Willow Cottage, Chinaman's, Rock 
Rose, Lazy Point, Silver Hill ... my large- 
scale St. Helena map is worth the five 
shillings I paid for it at the Castle. The 
names remind me of many a ramble, and 
many an eyrie where I stood and dreamt 
of all the pages of this dramatic island's 
story. Such a place was the High Knoll 
fortress. I found the massive doors wide 
open and the whole place deserted, from 
dungeons to powder magazines; deserted 
except by the wild goats that seemed to 
accentuate the weird atmosphere. I 

thought of the old mutineers who were 
blindfolded and shot against the grey 
walls last century. I remembered that Boer 
prisoners who tried to escape were locked 
in this fortress. And I felt glad that I could 
walk out without a sentry to stop me, and 
find my car and drive away. 

Knollcombes is a happier memory. Sir 
George Bingham once lived there; the 
man who saw a fourteen-year-old slave 
girl with her back bleeding after a 
whipping, and thereupon started the 
movement which led to the abolition of 
slavery on the island. But the house Bing- 
ham occupied was in ruins, thanks to the 
white ant which has eaten so many St. 
Helena homes. I discovered fragments of 
a spinet, the piano of the eighteenth 
century, lying among the remnants of 
furniture. Knollcombes is now the 
property of the retired army officer you 
met playing cricket in the yard of the 
hotel. He was planning a new house on 
the old place. I walked round the garden 

with him, and saw that he would have 
peaches and guavas on his table, and pine 
logs to burn, and pheasant in season. St. 
Helena is a long way out of the world, but 
those who do not fear solitude will find 
peace there. 

Just above Knollcombes is the Baptist 
chapel, and the graveyard where Boer 
prisoners who died on the island were 
buried. Two of them were boys of sixteen, 
two were men over seventy. All the names 
are inscribed on the two memorial pillars. 
The graveyard is always neat. In a 
neighbouring cemetery there is an 
impressive obelisk in memory of 
Governor Hudson Ralph Janisch, who was 
also an historian and an astronomer. Only 
one previous official born in St. Helena 
had become governor. Janisch was the 
eldest son of G. W. Janisch, confidential 
clerk to Sir Hudson Lowe during the 
Captivity. He never left the island, but 
became a magistrate and then served 
various governors so well that he was 

recommended for the highest position 
himself. When he was appointed, 
however, the governor's salary was 
reduced from £2000 a year to £900. 
Hudson Janisch had the confidence of the 
islanders, and governed them well from 
1873 to 1884, a hard period in the island's 
history, when more than fifteen hundred 
St. Helenans emigrated to the Cape. 
Janisch was the first official to recognise 
the value of the archives in the Castle at 
Jamestown. He indexed the records and 
found many episodes for his "Extracts 
from the St. Helena Records". His 
descendants left the island and settled in 
Cape Town, but some of them still visit 
the island where the first two Janischs 
helped to make history. 

Four generations of Janischs have ridden 
on the tortoise which is pointed out to 
every visitor in the grounds of Plantation 
House, the governor's residence. Visitors 
are informed that this tortoise (probably 
from Mauritius) is a living link with 

Just above Knollcombes is the Baptist chapel and the graveyard where Boer prisoners were buried. 
Two of them were boys of sixteen, two were men over seventy. 

Napoleon. In fact, it was landed as 
recently as 1858, when there were already 
two giant tortoises of the same species 
chewing the governor' s lawn. One died in 
1877, and the shell was sent to the 
London Natural History museum. There 
was an aged female which the millionaire 
Rothschild tried to buy, but his offer was 
refused. This tortoise was accidentally 
killed by falling over a cliff. The survivor 
is a male, but its exact age is unknown. 

Plantation House, with its farm of more 
than a hundred acres, is one of the island's 
oldest and most pleasant estates. The 
house was built in 1792, but Sir Hudson 
Lowe added the present library, billiard 
room and other amenities. St. Helena is 
the starting point in a colonial governor's 
career. There must have been many past 
governors who rose to much greater 
positions, but who looked back wistfully 
on their years in charming little Plantation 

Doubtless the heyday of Plantation House 
was the Captivity period, for Sir Hudson 
Lowe's salary was £12,000 a year. Lowe 
had two large farms producing free of 
charge the food which enabled him to 
entertain generously. The company's 
slaves worked as labourers, and there 
were many skilled Chinese on the estate. 
But I do not think Lowe ever enjoyed 
himself. He was too worried, too full of 
fear that Napoleon would escape, too 
conscious of his responsibilities. 

Rooms at Plantation House have old brass 
plates with the positions of those who 
occupied them many years ago: 
Governor's Room, Admiral's Room, 
General's Room, Baron's Room. One 
room is labelled "Chaos", and here a 
poltergeist is said to disturb the fine old 
furniture occasionally. I must say that the 
friendly and homely atmosphere of 
Plantation House did not suggest a 
haunted mansion to me. 

One memorable Sunday, thanks to 
Inspector Ogborn of the police, I circum- 
navigated St. Helena in the motor-launch 
Yellowfin. Several islanders among the 
inspector's guests confessed that it was 
the first time they had cruised all the way 
round their lonely island. We towed a gig 
as a lifeboat; for it might mean shipwreck 
if the engine failed on the uninhabited, 
wave-lashed stretches of the island's 
weather side. 

At first the coastline was familiar, for I 
had been out fishing with Charlie Wade as 
far as Egg Island. There were the goat- 
tracks across the seaward face of Ladder 
Hill, often used by daring islanders 
following stray goats, or gathering wild 
pepper and wild tobacco on the cliffs, or 
hunting wild rabbits in the caves. I still 
shudder when I think of the precipices 
surrounding that island. Many islanders 
have gone out, never to return; though all 
knew that they had either fallen to their 
deaths or been swept off the rocks. 

Charlie Wade told me about three brothers 
who had all vanished at different times. 
"Must have bin a drowning family," 
remarked Charlie calmly. 

Every valley has its ruins. Steering west 
about from Jamestown, you come first to 
Breakneck Valley, barred by a Dutch 
wall. Young's Valley was defended in the 
same way, but the name is fairly recent. It 
seems that Young had a garden with yams 
and bananas in the narrow valley, and 
lived there happily until his wife fell ill. 
The doctor advised him to move, for the 
valley is isolated. Then his wife died. 

"Same man Young what was dwelling 
here drowned hisself two years 
afterwards," Charlie Wade ended. "He 
was a bit daft, see ... jumped over." 

My favourite St. Helena valley, the place I 
would select for a retreat from 
civilisation, is Lemon Valley. More than 
two centuries ago a Dutch squadron from 
Table Bay landed soldiers there, but the 

One memorable Sunday I circumnavigated St. Helena in the motor-launch Yellowfin. 

English threw large stones over the cliff 
and beat them off. Never-theless, the 
Dutch captured the island and built a 
dizzy fort on the cliff overlooking the 
Lemon Valley landing place; and they 
threw the usual defensive wall across the 
mouth of the valley. 

Lemon Valley was once the watering 
place of the East India ships. Then a 
landslide occurred, and the taste and 
colour of the water were affected. 
However, there is a stream which never 
dries up, and though the lemons have 
vanished there are still a few guava and 
banana trees. A solid stone house, used as 
quarantine station and barracks for the 
garrison in World War II, now lacks 
doors, windows and floors. As I roamed 
the deserted valley I felt that a hermit who 
was also a handyman could soon put 
things in order, grow enough fruit and 
vegetables and catch enough fish to 
support himself. 

This time the Yellowfin slipped past my 
imaginary paradise. I saw the bird rocks 
again, where the black crabs come out 
into the sunshine. There was Creepy 
Cove, so called because it is impossible to 
climb along the cliffs unless you creep on 
all fours. Then came Horse Pasture Point, 
with the sea booming in the caves at water 
level; noddies nesting in a guano cave. 

Egg Island is a huge white waterless rock 
where the Dutch set up cannon and left a 
few unhappy soldiers to repel invaders. At 
rare intervals the tide will allow you to 
walk from the island to the mainland. 
Police sergeant Dillon told me that he 
explored Egg Island with Dr. Gosse, the 
historian, some years ago and found some 
cannon balls, coins and military buttons. 
Dillon was in the guano trade before he 
joined the police. He knows the rotten 
rock of his native island, and he spent 
months working desolate Bosun Bird Islet 
at Ascension. ("We had to dig our own 
'graves' in the guano to sleep on Bosun 

Bird - and the lice nearly ate us up," 
Dillon recalled.) Dillon said there was 
guano on the cliffs at Frying Pan Cove, 
inside Egg Island, but it was a dangerous 
place for a boat. The usual system was for 
a man to be lowered over the cliff in a 
bo'sun's chair with a bag between his 
legs. This man chopped the solid guano 
off the cliff with a hammer, filled the bag, 
and then sent the bag down to a boat. If 
there was an overhang, the man in the 
chair drove pegs into the cliff, then made 
the chair fast to dead-eyes on the pegs and 
hauled himself below the bulge. It was a 
pretty desperate game, he declared, and 
only a few men on St. Helena had the 
nerve to do it. With guano at £15 a ton it 
was more or less worth the risk. Frying 
Pan Cove was a nightmare, however, 
because you had to work without the aid 
of a boat. Moreover, the men who 
lowered the chair could not see what the 
man in the chair was doing. The sacks of 
guano had to be hauled up the cliff when 

they were full. Special whistle signals 
were given for each stage in the operation. 

Members of the Phillips family are about 
the only real guano experts left on St. 
Helena, apart from Dillon. There is old 
man Phillips working with a son and a 
son-in-law. Another son worked with the 
team, but one day they hauled up the chair 
and there was no one in it. "Maybe a stone 
struck him," suggested Dillon. "He must 
have fallen out of the chair and got 

From the Yellowfin I saw the five rocks 
and islets where the seabirds nest: Egg, 
Peaked, Speery, George and Shore Island. 
All are close inshore. Speery is the most 
dramatic; a pinnacle rock where you 
would imagine that even the birds would 
find it hard to move. Yet men climb that 
rock, work the guano and sleep on the 

Most common among the seabirds is the 
White-capped Noddy, known to the 

islanders as the Noddy Bird. Another 
species of Noddy (called "Blackbird" 
locally) is vicious, and men collecting 
guano have to guard their heads. But the 
most spectacular bird of these waters is 
the Red-billed Tropic Bird (the "Trophy- 
bird" of the islanders), which nests in the 
cliffs. They have a way of dropping off 
the ledges to launch themselves in the air, 
and it is said that they cannot rise on the 
wing from level ground. 

Many birds of St. Helena were captured 
alive or shot for sale to visitors up to 
about sixty years ago. Tropic Birds were 
killed for their plumes, which then 
adorned women's hats. The interesting St. 
Helena Sandplover, or Wire Bird, was 
trapped and sold in cages. This land bird 
is believed to be the only indigenous bird 
of the island; it was noticed by very early 
travellers. Fortunately the trade in birds 
was stopped towards the end of last 
century, or several species would have 
been exterminated by now. Major E. L. 

Haydock, the ornithologist, located only 
about one hundred pairs of Wire Birds on 
the island a few years ago. 

Dillon told me there must have been rare 
birds on St. Helena "in the before days". 
He found a pair of avian feet on Shore 
Island once, large feet different from the 
feet of any bird frequenting the island 
today. These mysterious skeleton feet 
were buried deep in the guano, and Dillon 
is still wondering what the whole bird 
looked like. 

"Sea's a bit rugged today," declared the 
islanders as the Yellowfin plunged into 
the seas off Sandy Bay, and the spray 
came over. But as we left the last of the 
bird islands astern the launch was running 
before the trade wind, moving easily until 
she came into the calmer waters of 
Prosperous Bay. There the party landed, 
and I looked up to the heights and saw the 
old, disused signal station where poor 
Gunnell was so stupidly murdered. Dillon 
told me a happier story of Prosperous 

Bay. He once found a four hundred pound 
turtle some way inland, where it had gone 
to lay its eggs; and he sold it at five pence 
a pound. Here, too, are more ruins - the 
battery and a fort built to keep any 
possible friends of Napoleon away from 
the anchorage. 

It was at Prosperous Bay that the English 
landed in 1673 to recapture the island 
from the Dutch. Captain Kedgwin took 
four hundred men on shore, using a clever 
negro slave named Black Oliver as guide. 
It was long odds against the assault 
succeeding, for the whole force had to 
scale a cliff with a last perilous section 
which demands a rope. A fine climber 
named Tom climbed the last section 
without any sort of aid, and then lowered 
a rope by which the four hundred men 
reached Longwood Plain. As each man 
came up, hand over hand, he called out: 
"Hold fast, Tom!" (This point on the cliff 
has been marked as Holdfast Tom on the 
maps ever since then.) Meanwhile Captain 

Munden was bombarding Jamestown 
from the sea. The Dutch surrendered. 
Prosperous Bay gained its name as a 
result of the British victory. Someone had 
to climb down the Holdfast Tom cliff 
when Napoleon died, for there is a 
gypsum deposit there and this was used 
for the controversial death mask. Another 
account, however, states that the gypsum 
was fetched hurriedly from George Island 
by whaleboat. 

Sail on round the sinister cliffs of Turk's 
Cap and the Barn, round Buttermilk Point, 
past Half Moon Battery and you come to 
Rupert's Bay. This opens up another 
secluded, almost forgotten yet lovely 
valley which seems to be waiting for an 

Rupert was a prince, son of the King of 
Bohemia, who anchored in the bay to 
refresh his ship's company a couple of 
hundred years ago. Ever since then the 
islanders have called it Rupert's Valley. 
William Burchell the botanist of South 

African fame occupied a house in 
Rupert's Valley early last century. He 
landed on St. Helena by accident, became 
deeply interested in the plants, and stayed 
on as schoolmaster. For five years he 
investigated the botany and geology of the 
island, and he sent many specimens to 
England. It was due to Burchell's 
experiments that the island was proved to 
be a suitable place for coffee and cotton. 
He sailed for the Cape in 1810, to embark 
on the expeditions which led to greater 

Freed slaves were housed in Rupert's 
Valley a century ago. Many thousands of 
slaves rested there, recovering from the 
ordeal of the holds, before they were sent 
on to work as free labourers in the West 
Indies. Melliss the naturalist boarded a 
captured slaver just as she anchored in 
Rupert's Bay in 1861, and gave this 
impression: "I picked my way from end to 
end in order to avoid treading upon the 
slaves. The deck was thickly strewn with 

the dead, dying and starved bodies. A visit 
to a fully-freighted slave ship is not easily 
to be forgotten; a scene so intensified in 
all that is horrible almost defies 
description." Bishop Gray was another 
shocked visitor to Rupert's Bay at that 
period. "If anything were needed to fill 
the soul with burning indignation against 
that masterwork of Satan, the Slave Trade, 
it would be a visit to this institution," he 
wrote. "There were not less than six 
hundred poor souls in it. Of these more 
than three hundred were in hospital; some 
affected with dreadful ophthalmia; others 
with severe rheumatism, others with 
dysentery, the number of deaths in a week 
being twenty-one." 

It was a slave ship, of course, which 
brought the white ant to St. Helena. 
Within thirty years Jamestown had been 
devastated, and the ant had created havoc 
all over the island before the end of the 

"In the shipping days," as the islanders 
say, when fifteen hundred ships a year 
called and it was not so hard for a man to 
earn a living, Jamestown was 
overcrowded. One governor of a century 
ago suggested that a suburb should be 
built in Rupert's Valley. This was done, 
but a scheme for linking the two valleys 
by a tunnel was never carried out. At that 
time, too, a governor sent to England for a 
wooden prefabricated building called a 
"model gaol". It was set up in Rupert's 
Valley. Not long afterwards a prisoner 
who disliked all gaols, model or other- 
wise, put a match to it. Within an hour it 
had been destroyed. Other buildings of the 
period are still there, but mainly in ruins. 
One good double-storeyed house, with a 
plaque in honour of Burchell and palms 
and bananas, is used by the cable 
company; for you can see the deep-sea 
cable emerging from the ocean and 
crossing the beach. The whole waterfront 
is barricaded in the familiar St. Helena 

fashion by an old fort wall. A chimney 
and boilers were pointed out to me as 
relics of the South African War, for they 
formed a distilling plant to supply the 
prisoner-of-war camps. 

Shortly before World War II a solitary 
leper was living at Rupert's Bay, passing 
the time with a gramophone and a number 
of old records. He is no longer there, and I 
imagine that it would not cost much to 
rent a house in the valley. 

I walked along the cliff paths one Sunday 
afternoon from Jamestown to Rupert's 
Bay, and it was a walk to remember. 
Often I dared not look over the low stone 
wall. There is an inlet along the route 
called Rowland's Cove, scene of several 
fatal accidents owing to rock falls and 
people slipping over the edge. St. Helena 
is an island of incredible residences, and I 
saw one that afternoon. The house was 
built into a ledge in the cliff, there was a 
palm tree apparently growing out of the 
rock, and you could have dropped a 

fishing-line into the sea from any of the 
front windows. A painter could have 
made a remarkable canvas of that quaint 
eyrie, but I was always conscious of the 

Well, you have circled St. Helena and the 
launch Yellowfin is back on her moorings 
off Jamestown in the bay which has 
known so much sea adventure. I fancy 
that I can see the earliest sailors of all 
landing on the beach, taking what they 
wished in goats and swine and fruit, 
carving records of their visits on rocks 
and trees, and sailing away with their 
memories of the uninhabited mid-ocean 
paradise. "Providence has bestowed upon 
it all that is best of air, earth and water," 
declared Francois Pyrard. "Nowhere in 
the world, I believe, will you find an 
island of its size to compare with it." 

Some people in St. Helena still hold that 
opinion, and they are not all islanders. 
There are others among the white 
community who regard themselves as 

exiles; they wish their lives away, looking 
forward always to the next holiday in 
England, or the next transfer to some less- 
isolated colony. What is the truth? 

There is no truth for all. I was told of a 
woman, suffering acutely from a nervous 
complaint, who went to stay with well- 
meaning friends on St. Helena; for they 
thought the utter peace of the island 
would cure her. Instead, it brought on the 
most serious emotional attack she had 
ever known. The ship left, and she felt 
trapped. It was claustrophobia in a 
dangerous form. Heaven alone knows 
what would have happened to her if a ship 
had not put in by sheer chance a few days 
later and carried her thankfully away. 

Another woman who was merely bored 
after a year or two on the island remarked 
to me: "I prefer bridge to conversation 
here. You go round and round meeting the 
same people and hearing the same 
subjects discussed time after time. It's like 
going on for years in the same ship with 

the same passengers. A man has his work; 
but a woman is to be pitied." 

Then there was the wife of a well- 
educated, well-travelled man who had 
nevertheless spent most of his life on the 
island. She had been born elsewhere. "I 
am afraid that I am here for life, and I feel 
it," she summed up. "I dare not make 
close friends, for in a few years they pass 
on to a tour of duty elsewhere and are lost 
to me. In any case it is hard to make 
friends - the circle is too narrow." 

Yet I remember, too, a man who seemed 
happy - a settler who had tried other 
paradise islands and left them in disgust, 
and found peace on St. Helena. The war 
had been unkind to him, I know, and he 
deserved to find what he had been 
seeking. "I don't see why I should be 
called an escapist simply because I have 
chosen to live in a place where the people 
do not hate one another," he declared. 

I cannot quarrel with that test, but there is 
another which I would have to apply 
successfully to find the island of my 
dreams. It is pleasant to see well- 
nourished people round one. You can 
enjoy your own meals far more if the 
general standard of living is not so very 
far below your own. Now as I have said, 
the St. Helena people are not starving. 
Certainly they are not well-fed. I gave a 
small boy a shilling for carrying my fish 
up from the wharf, and asked him what he 
would do with the money. He looked up 
at me in surprise. "Give it to my mother to 
buy bread," he replied. "Lots o' people 
here werry poor, mister." 

Just before I sailed from St. Helena I was 
taken to see a woman of ninety-seven. Her 
father and mother had been slaves. She 
had married at twenty-one, and her 
marriage had lasted for seventy-one years: 
Her tiny cottage looked out over a wide 
expanse of ocean, but she was almost 
blind. I expressed my sympathy, 

wondering what the secret of her peaceful 
mind might be. 

"Oh, it's not so bad, " smiled the old 
woman. "I've had a contented life, my 
daughter looks after me - and I can still 
see the sunset." 



The index below is as it was in the original paper book but in this e-book the page numbers 
have all changed and have therefore been removed. Otherwise the original index is left 
unchanged to display the authors choice and readers should use their program's search 
facility to locate the item. 

Abraham (Bushman) 

Adderley (farm) 

Jan Agenbach 

Alexander Bay 

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold 

Maurice Aronson 

Orlando Bagley 

Andrew Geddes Bain 

Donald Bain 

Major General David Baird 


General C. F. Beyers 

Big Hole 

Major Bird 

Blue Point 

General Botha 

Robert Bowman 

Breakneck Valley 

L. R. Breytenbach 

Briars (St. Helena) 

Broken Hill 

Dr. Robert Broom 

Frank Brownlee 

Bruno Buchner 

Button-up Corner 

William Burchell 
Pieter Burger 

Cape Frio 
Cape St. Lucia 
Cape Times 
Cataract Island 
Centenarian Club 

James Chapman 
Chitambo Mission 


Rev. James Chutter 
Percy M. Clark 
Frank Connock 
Edward Constantine 
Consulate Hotel 

Sir George Cory 

Mr. J. C. Pickersgill Cunliffe 

Cunliffe's diary 

Daniel (Bushman) 

B. H. Darnell 

Deadwood Plain 
General De la Rey 
Devil's Punchbowl 
Napier Devitt 
Dr. H. C. De Wet 
Mr. Justice N. J. De Wet 
Mrs. Ella De Wet 
Diamond sorting 


Dolly's Chop House 
Rev. S. S. Dornan 
G. C. Dry 

Dr. R. E. Dunn 

Egg Island 

Lt. Col. J. Ellenberger 
Dr. Maurice Ernest 

Peter Falk 
Fire balloon 
Foster Gang 
Professor Leo Fouche 
Francis Plain 

J. M. Gilliland 


Bernard Goldberg 
Reuben Goldberg 

Great North Road 


Ewart Grogan 

Captain R. D. S. Gwatkin 

Major C. H. L. Hahn 
Sir John Harris 
Henry Hartley 
Captain T. C. Hawley 
Rev. Charles Helm 
Dr. M. W. Henning 

General Hertzog 
High Knoll fortress 
Colonel H. Marshall Hole 
Pat Hollindrake 



Georges Imbault 

Albert Jackson 
Jacob's Ladder 
J. J. Jacobs 

Jamestown (St. Helena) 
Governor Hudson Ralph 


Dirk Jasson 

Commandant Jordaan 
Corporal Jordan 

Kebra-basa Rapids 
Kelsey expedition 
General Kemp 

Mrs. Una Kirby 
H. W. R. Kluever 
Knysna fire 
Dr. Robert Koch 
Dr. L. J. Krige 
D. W. Kruger 
President Kruger 

J. N. R. Labuschagne 

Lemon Grove 
Lemon Valley 
Owen Letcher 

David Livingstone 


Fernando Lopez 

A. J. Louw 

Mrs. Jessie Lovemore 

Lufkin's Towers 

Lord Lugard 


Sir Thomas Maclear 


Chief Makaba 

Mrs. Janie A. Malherbe 


Sarie Marais 

Susara Margaretha Mare 

Trooper Gerald Martin 

Miss Polly Mason 

Joe Masurek 

Angus McAskill 

Lord Methuen 

James Molife 

Sir Leopold Moore 

G. H. Morton 

Mount Eternity 
Mount Pleasant 
George Moyce 
Munden's Hill 
Myrtle Grove 

Nandi Bear 
Rev. Paul Nel 
Dr. Peter Nortier 

Inspector Ogborn 


Harm Oost 

Mr. F. Oswell- Jones 

W. C. Oswell 

V. Pare 

F. R. Paver 

Constable Anthony Pebroe 

Alan Perry 

Phu Quoc dogs 

William J. Pickerill 


Plantation House 

Port Alexandre 

Port Shepstone 

W. H. Pretorius 


Pieter C. Pringle 
Prosperous Bay 

H. R. Raikes 


Trooper Ramsay 
Edward C. Rashleigh 
Captain J. J. Reynard 

Ridgeback dogs 
Rose Cottage 
Rosemary Hall 
Rupert's Bay 
Rupert's Valley 
W. G. Rushbrook 

St. Helena (Coffee) 
St. Helena (crime) 
St. Helena (fish) 
St. Helena Island 
St. Helena (nicknames) 
St. Helena (people) 
Sandy Bay 

J. Scott-Brown 
James Scott 
Sechele (Chief) 

Side Path 

Sir Percy Sillitoe 
J. Simpson 
General Smuts 
S toff el Snyman 
Solomons (St. Helena) 

J. W. Soper 

South West Africa 
Spanish 'flu 

Mr. Kasparus ("Oom Kalie") 

President Steyn 

Joseph Suskin 

S. O. Swailes 

J. V. Tebbitt 

Teutonic Hall 

Captain R. Hartley Thackeray 

R. H. Thomas 

Tiger Bay 


J. P. Toerien 

Tremors (Johannesburg) 

Colonel H. F. Trew 

Karel Trichardt 




Ukati (Zulu) 

R. Macduff Urquhart 

Nicolaas Van Rensburg 
Cornelis Van Rooyen 

Dr. F. A. Venter 
Victoria Falls 
Jan Viljoen 


Mr. E. J. ("Pop") Warren 

G. F. Weber 

West Lodge 
A. J. Williams 



E. Zelle 

Oupa Zietsman 
Zululand (Earthquake)